Mar. 22, 1999
Volume 51, No. 24
Guest instructors bring centuries-old art, Noh, to Emory Quad
On March 25 the Quadrangle will become an outdoor stage for Kurozuka, a Japanese theater performance. Emory history professor Mark Ravina describes Kurozuka as "a medieval tale of pilgrimage, murder, cannibalism and demonic possession with a brief, comic interlude."
Seventeen student performers have been trained at Emory for this presentation of Noh, a classical form of Japanese drama. Their instructors are longtime collaborators, visiting professor Richard Emmert and actor Akira Matsui.
Said Asian studies major and Kurozuka chorus member Victoria McCready, "It's been quite a learning experience to study with Emmert-sensei. He has a long history with Japanese theater. Before, when I thought of Japanese theater, [I only pictured] people with white face paint dancing around (Kabuki). Noh is nothing like that."
Courtney King, who majors in French and minors in dance, said she was drawn to the class by research for her honors thesis. "My dance experience helps in my role as a demoness who expresses herself more through abstract movement than through the spoken word." Each of the student performers have tackled the challenge of learning their lines in Japanese and adapting natural movements to stylistic gestures.
Emmert recognizes the magnitude of their task. "In Japan people spend a lifetime building to a full performance. Here, in a limited period of time, we are trying to get students to be as Noh-like as possible," he said. "It's a chance for them to have a completely different experience with theater and with what can be done on stage. In actual practice they may discover that less is more. They learn to concentrate on the heart of the performance."
An American, Emmert has studied, taught and performed classical Noh drama in Japan since 1973. He is a certified Kita School Noh instructor--the Kita School being one of five guilds of principal-role actors in Japan. Emmert's special focus is movement and music, and in Tokyo he teaches Asian theater and music at Musashino Women's College and coordinates an ongoing Noh training project for English speakers.
In addition to instructing the Emory class in Noh performance, Emmert is team-teaching a course on Noh in the broader context of Japanese culture with professors from Oglethorpe University and Agnes Scott, Emory and Smith colleges, who are presenting lectures on Japanese shamanism, masks, Kabuki theater, history and print culture. The special course also involves acting and music classes and visits to the Carlos Museum's current exhibition of Noh theater prints.
Emmert's counterpart, Akira Matsui, is a master actor-teacher of the Kita School. Born in 1946 in Wakayama, Japan, he began studying Noh at age 7. He showed such talent that by age 12 he had become a live-in apprentice to Kita Minoru, a 15th-generation Noh master of the Kita School. Eight years later Matsui himself had become a master of Noh dance and chant. Since then he has been performing and teaching Noh drama throughout Japan and abroad.
Going beyond his intensely traditional theater work, Matsui has experimented with intercultural fusions to the genre. Together with Emmert, he has created a series of "English Noh" plays including St. Francis, At the Hawk's Well and Eliza. In addition, he has choreographed Noh-style dances to jazz ballads and to poetry by T.S. Eliot. In 1998 he was designated a Mukei Bunka-zai-"important intangible cultural asset"-by the Japanese government.
Emory's dramatic presentation of Kurozuka is scheduled for 6 p.m. both Thursday, March 25, and Friday, March 26. Saturday evening the Noh theater project will present excerpts from the performance as part of Emory's International Cultural Festival. All three events are free, and no tickets are required.
For more information about Noh theater and to see rehearsals in progress, visit the project web site at <http:/ www.emory.edu/COLLEGE/NOH/>.