Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Noh Notes: Feeding the Addiction at NTP 2012

On Saturday 14th July, my latest adventure began when I flew to the US to start the Noh Training Project 2012. After a night hanging around Manhattan 24-hour fast food restaurants starting conversations with all kinds of strangers, and a 5 hour bus ride, I found myself in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, my new home for the next three weeks.

Technically, I was a 'first year' - I'd never studied noh on this course before - but unlike the me of last August, this summer I knew at least a little of what to expect.

So, I wasn't terrified when, on the first day, a ream of paper full of strange musical notation and numbered patterns whammed down infront of me

...I was used to the rather frantic sound of paper shuffling as the teacher announced the next song we'd be singing. I even had my own folder full of special compartments for different song books:

...I not only knew what Tabi were, but I had three pairs, one of which has the rather dubious honour of being irreparably dirty from use on fake noh stages (a noh stages is so clean that a surgeon could do an operation on its surface)

...and (perhaps most importantly) I was used to the utter humiliation of getting a dance or a line of sung text so wrong that you can see the teacher momentarily at a loss for where to even start correcting you.

So secretly, I was feeling rather smug. I was ready for this.

Or, so I thought, just before my first day in the NTP 'returning students' class.Within the first minute, sitting infront of two people who sang with a strength I would give three years of my life for, and danced dances I'd learned but with a weight and grace that I might dream of but only if I was having a daring sort of a night, I realised just how wrong I was. I was a caterpillar among giants.

I tried to escape into the first year class, which is really where I belonged. But I wasn't allowed. I was going to have to endure the humiliation, stick it out, and try my best. I set to it, practicing and memorising words, going to rehearsals, trying to sing in the noh version of 'in tune' and to at least keep my balance when I was dancing.

Today, two weeks later, when the sun is shining in the right direction and I'm in a good mood, I can just about see how much I've learnt. All the other times, my brain feels like it's gone from this:

to something more like this:

Noh is a truly wonderful, exhilarating, all-consuming art form (or collective of loads of them). But, working to get better at doing it rides so close to the precipice of 'shovelling shit', that I'm extremely relieved that noh, for me, is also an Addiction. So, onward, into the final week, a recital, a show, and all the fun of the fair!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Sugar Architecture (or, American Sweets 101)

This is neither a dishwasher tablet, a urinal crystal, or a strangely cut piece of washing up sponge. It is Food. More specifically, it is a Warhead:

These monuments of blue raspberry deliciousness are only one of my many delightful (but more often than not unfortunately named after weapons) sugary discoveries since I came to America last week. I am a lover of the English pineapple chunk, Green Apple and Kola cube - but oh, the American Sour (not Mega-Sour, not only inedibly lip puckering but which carry a health warning about stomach ulcers as well as the more usual tooth decay, obesity and ADHD flags) Warhead: whether alone in a city of giant salt and pepper shakers...

...or in a gaggle with its colourful companions...

...that beautiful, tasty and utterly artifical cube might be the best yet.

Tomorrow it's a toss-up between acid green pistachio muffins, and triple chocolate cherry frosted pop tarts. Or perhaps something completely new - who really knows?

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Noh Notebook: June 2012 and on

It's just as well I'm at the 2012 Noh Training Project in Bloomsburg, Pennslvania. I'm an addict: I've only been away from Japan for 3 weeks and already the thing I miss most is live noh theatre. Whole afternoons shooting past in a twilight zone of stylised other-worldliness and serendipitous marriages of music, and story, and movement, and beautiful things to look at.

On June 24th, for the last time in a while, from my usual seat in the Kita Theatre, I watched and savoured an afternoon of professional noh theatre. Waki actors sitting in their spot at front stage left...

...waiting for the shite main actor to arrive onstage, often in disguise at first...

...but not for long because after the shite's real identity is revealed, the action really begins. Sometimes, gorgeous heartbreaking dances...

...and sometimes, a no-holds barred demonic sound and light show:

And then, there's the Ai Kyogen interlude actor who appears while the other actors get changed, and either sits and retells the story...

...or prances around to lighten the mood a bit

Ai Kyogen hoeing dance

Now, I won't have to suffer quite so badly now I'm at the only Noh Training Prject in America! Who would never have thought that the most noh you can get outside of Japan would be Pennsylvania? But that's where I am ad what I'm doing. Slightly looking forward to Friday,...in a good way.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Being a Kid: Backstage at the Barbican

Backstage passes are always fun to have, but gaining no holds barred access to the Barbican's Cool Stuff Cupboard...

...may just be the best backstage pass I've ever had.

Being an adult clowning around in rooms full of toys and 3-5 year olds is fun enough...

...but being a kid yourself? Still better.