Noh Reimagined & Noh Kinuta: A Beautiful Art Form Brought To Life

As the Noh Reimagined Festival returns this June, we take a look at the joy and magic that the festival, in collaboration with Kings Place, brings to all who attend.
All photos: Pat Lyttle.
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Noh Reimagined & Noh Kinuta: A Beautiful Art Form Brought To Life

Noh is slow. It's also subtle, expressive, emotional, beautiful and most interesting. A dying art, hopefully not. It is of the many truly wonderful art forms that is rich from Japan's past. Of late there has been a niche increase of interest in it, but generally it has been in decline with a modern populace very much into contemporary westernised forms of entertainment.

But who doesn't like a good story? In today's fast paced world with short attention spans, Noh needs more love than it rightfully gets as an old artform with the most unique and stylised approach in its presentation. Noh has such beauty, but one must take a gentle step back to truly appreciate it.

Part of Noh Reimagined includes the efforts to bring workshops and other features to the audience to truly immerse them in the artform, and provide them with greater insight and appreciation of Noh theatre. Such workshops were a reflective feast for the senses, and a great prelude to the main event.

This brings us to one of the most touching of the 240 or so Noh plays officially documented, Noh Kinuta by Zeami Motokiyo (c. 1363 - 1443). It is a truly sad, romantic story of a feudal Lord of today's Fukuoka prefecture and his wife. He ventures off to the capital Kyoto, to take care of a complex legal dispute.

Meanwhile his wife at home waits hoping to see her man soon. Three years pass and she gets her hopes up when told he will be home soon. His return does not come to pass and her love turns to resentment and many other variants of anger. The play gets its name from the kinuta (a wooden or stone block used for pounding cloth) she beats daily.

Things look up as her husband's work is done and he heads back home to his loving wife. Only he is greeted with the news that she has died. In a quest to speak to his wife one last time he consults a medium, but it doesn't go as he hoped at first, as his wife lets her husband know what hell she's been through, quite literally.

This play is stunning but is not told in a straight forward, traditional, western theatrical manner. It's Noh. So it takes time. One has to assume and decode much for yourself from visual cues and gestures by the actors. It forces you to look deeper, think harder and to pay attention to subtleties, lest you end up like its protagonists.

It was a vision of beauty told in the good old fashioned way, in a good story: one with amazing visuals and a most expressive soundscore.

Noh Reimagined runs at Kings Place in London from 21-22 June: tickets and more information can be found on the Kings Place website. Sumidagawa is also performed at the Aldeburgh Festival on 18 June.

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