Japanese Noh Theatre Costume Agency
Noh theatre is a dramatic performance originating in medieval Japan that has survived as a continuous tradition to the present day. Since the second half of the fourteenth-century, noh has transformed many times, resembling the dependence between social and stage dramas. An essential role in this process play refined costumes, serving not only as an illustration of past and present social hierarchy but also serving as a means of constructing the hierarchical inner structure of noh troupes. The noh is a strictly actor-centred tradition, and the performers (shite and waki actors) are the primary visual elements on stage. Their costumes and masks enlarge their presence and convey important information about the character’s age, temperament, social status, and personal affiliation. Noh costumes seem to be more than mere dress; they instead form a visual, symbolic language that precisely describes the characters, their roles in the drama and serves as the stage sets.
During last few decades many transnational and transcultural Shinsaku noh (newly written) projects have been realized, including Nekyia noh (based on Odyssey Book 11, staged in Tokyo and Epidaurus), and the very recent theatrical work titled At Jacob’s well, written by Diethard Leopold. The latter was staged in Austria, France and Poland, by Tokyo-based, Tessenkai Noh Theatre, in September 2019. The number of these performances, and the willingness of Japanese artists to participate in them, proves that one is dealing with a whole artistic current. The current, which expands the boundaries of noh convention (including costumes and stage sets), adding to it, the transcultural elements. The author, who has studied noh both theoretically and practically, within the Kanze and Shimogakarai Hōshō schools, shall discuss the forms and symbolical importance of noh costumes, along with practices and institutions related to them with the particular focus on contemporary, transcultural repertoire.
Dr. Jakub Karpoluk – culture expert, japanologist, art historian and curator, a graduate of Warsaw University (M.A.) and Polish Academy of Sciences (PhD), associate prof. at the New Media Arts Department, and the Japanese Culture Faculty of the Polish – Japanese Academy of IT, a lecturer at the Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences. Majoring in Japanese performing and visual arts, The Japan Foundation fellow at the Waseda University, a fellow of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He has studied traditional, Japanese nō theatre in the Kanze, Kita and Shimogakari Hōshō schools, co-directed, produced and performed in nō performances, in Poland, Japan, Germany, Austria and France, including Tessenkai Nō Theatre in Tokyo, National Theatre in Warsaw and Odeon Theater in Vienna. Jakub has curated artistic projects at the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology, The Royal Łazienki Museum, The Fryderyk Chopin Institute and the National Film Archive, among others.
Photo credits 1.
Kenkichi Tonoda (waki) & Jakub Karpoluk (wakitsure) in At Jacob’s Well, Royal Theatre, Warsaw, September 2019. Photo Alicja Szulc.
Photo credits 2.
Noh costumes; from the left side: a figure of a demon and a young maiden (Jakub Karpoluk). Tessenkai Noh Theatre, Tokyo, September 2013. Photo Yoko Fujii Karpoluk.