Master Gives Tips for Amateurs to Enjoy Noh
Many Noh costumes and masks were made in the 16th and 17th centuries and have been handed down very carefully to modern times. Authentic gold threads hand-woven into the fabric in medieval times still sparkles on the stage today. The wooden masks show different facial expressions depending on which subtle angles they are viewed from. Craftsmen at the time infused their spirits into the works of art and the spirits over 500 years ago can be felt even today. It is like traveling in time! It is almost the same experience as when you look at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, or look up at the ceiling paintings of the Sistine Chapel. As an aside, the Muromachi Period when Noh performance is said to have come about was between the 14th and 16th centuries, the same period in which Michelangelo played an active part in the European art scene.
The way that Noh performers move is distinctive. Performers wear traditional white socks called tabi and take short, sliding steps. They move horizontally instead of vertically. This movement is called mai, which is different from the up-and-down movements of dancing. The ballroom dances of the West often use sliding steps, too. Isn’t it interesting to discover the common movements between Noh and ballroom dancing, despite all the differences?
When you focus on one little thing while seeing Noh, you will come up with your own way to enjoy the performance, which Otoshige Sakai says is good. Picking up one lovely element out of Noh’s minimal expressions will expand your imagination and creativity. “Noh can be interpreted however you imagine. It’s up to you and your imagination,” said Otoshige Sakai.
Point 3: Feel Noh, instead of trying to understand it.
This last point might be the most challenging for us. We are exposed to so much information every day and are all busy. We are constantly doing something. And, we are trained to view things logically, and we spend so much energy on rational ways of thinking. Feeling nature or listening to your internal voice, therefore, might not be easy, and feeling Noh may sound complicated. But, when you go to an art exhibition or music concert, would you go try to analyze it or think rationally about it? I guess a few people would do so. But many people go there to experience beauty or have fun through excellent paintings and music. You can apply the same attitude to Noh. Without logically evaluating the performance, you can just feel something without an obvious reason.
So many feelings and emotions are condensed into Noh’s minimal expressions. Noh performers are trained to express abundant feelings in a compressed movement. You don’t have to understand the emotions, but just feel it. This approach will help you to enjoy Noh more.
“The audience is free to use their hearts not their brains to truly appreciate Noh. Therefore, relax and try not to think too much when you go to see a Noh performance,” said Otoshige Sakai. You would instead experience non-verbal communications with the performers on the stage. If you compare a Noh theater to a museum or concert hall, it may no longer feel like a lofty art, but something more accessible.
Let’s go back to the original question: Why is Noh considered difficult? It may be because you are trying to understand Noh literally rather than as an abstract art form. This is a modern approach born from today’s world. If you try to feel eternal human spirit more freely, there will no longer be a correct or incorrect way of appreciation. See Noh simply. You are at liberty to exercise your mind and converse with Noh’s spirit in any way you’d like.