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Question93 When did overseas Noh performances begin?

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It is not clear when a Noh play was first performed outside of Japan. Originally, Noh had its roots in foreign countries. There were many contacts between Japanese people and those of overseas nations from the Muromachi era until the early Edo era; namely, from when Noh was perfected until the start of the national isolation policy. It is thus possible that Noh plays were performed outside Japan in the early years after Zeami.

Following the opening of the country and the Meiji Restoration, records and reports of overseas Noh performances gradually increase. In 1905 (Meiji 38), a troupe including the head of the Kanze school performed 11 Noh plays, eight Kyōgen pieces and one dance piece in Seoul, Korea. It is said that Noh plays have since been performed several times in the East Asian region. Meanwhile, in the West, records say that a Noh performance was held in the United Kingdom in March 1900 (Meiji 33), at the Japanese Art Festival in London. There is also some information about a Noh actor of the Kanze School who visited San Francisco from the late Taishō period to the early Shōwa period (the 1920s) and performed some plays. It is still unclear, however, whether the UK and US performances were full-scale productions with masks, costumes and the three key players, along with support actors, chorus and Kyōgen actors.

After World War II, the first full-scale production on record in the West was an invitational performance at the International Theatre Festival in Venice, Italy, in 1954 (Shōwa 29). The troupe consisted of fifteen performers; ten actors including the leader Kita Minoru, and five musicians. Trilingual brochures in English, French and Italian and the stage structure were prepared in Japan. The stage was designed by a scene designer and constructed by stage carpenters in a kabuki theatre. Featuring removable pillars and a bridgeway of adjustable length and angle, it was designed to be ready-to-assemble for future overseas productions; the materials for the entire construction filled three trucks. The stage left Japan by sea one month before the troupe and was erected on the orchestra pit of a masonry open-air theatre in Venice. The production received high praise and some of the performances were nationally televised. This success helped to make overseas Noh performances popular in later years.

(Feb. 18, 2011)


illustration : Hiroko Sakaki
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