Yugen – the mysterious elegance of classical Noh

As part of the Noh Reimagined weekend at Kings Place, a number of performances and workshops took place. I like exploring and learning about different kinds of theatre, and the Japanese tradition of Noh is one I’ve often wanted to find out more about.

I attended Yugen – the mysterious elegance of classical Noh, a production featuring highlights from the classical Noh plays Tenko and Toru, both by the foremost Noh playwright-performer Zeami (1363-1443). Yoshimasa Kanze performs as the main dancer-actor, with musicians Yukihiro Isso, Mitsuhiro Kakihara, Mitsuhiro Kakihara and Yoshitani Kiyoshi.

The website description relates the plots of the plays as follows:

“Tenko refers to a celestial hand drum and is also the name of a boy who possesses this amazing drum. The boy had refused to give the drum to the emperor and drowned when the drum was taken from him. But when the drum makes no sound when played for the emperor, a memorial service is held for the boy. There, the ghost of Tenko appears and dances, then disappears between waking and dreaming as day breaks. Toru was a prince who retired from court to spend the rest of his life elegantly enjoying arts in his country home where he re-created a replica of Shiogama Bay with its pine trees and beautiful moon. In the play, he appears to a travelling priest and dances in the moonlight.”

This performance was completely different from anything else I have ever seen, the music and singing hard to get used to but eventually I succumbed to the rhythm of it, it was eerie and otherworldly and atmospheric. The costumes and masks were also highly unusual compared to what I usually see, but it had a strong effect on me. The performers are clearly highly talented and the experience was a surreal one.

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