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	Image: Nō mask Kasshiki (kokasshiki), Muromachi period, 16th century, Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan

Symposium: Theatre of dreams, theatre of play

The rich and sophisticated culture of nō theatre

Through a selection of masks, costumes, instruments, libretti and visualisations of performances in painting and prints, the exhibition Theatre of dreams, theatre of play: nō and kyōgen in Japan showcases the rich and sophisticated culture of nō (noh) theatre.

In this one-day symposium devoted to the exhibition, international experts explore the historical background and contemporary practice of nō highlighting the intertwined dramatic and material cultures esteemed as the crystallisation of Japanese aesthetics.

Supported by the Toshiba International Foundation and the Japan Foundation, Sydney



Suhanya Raffel, Director of Collections, Art Gallery of NSW

The collection of the National Noh Theatre, Tokyo
Yukie Kadowaki, curator, National Noh Theatre
Research into the origins of the National Noh Theatre collection reveals interesting histories of date and provenance. Drawing on inscriptions on masks and tags or seals on robes as well as associated packaging, and records of performances and events in samurai households, this lecture opens up the cultured world of the elite warrior class. Owned by daimyo, priests and performers, each object has a story to tell.

Nō imagined in paintings and prints
Dr Khanh Trinh, curator of Japanese art, Art Gallery of NSW and the exhibition’s curator
This lecture presents new research on the development of ‘nō pictures’, examining the various stylistic and compositional modes surrounding the paintings and prints, as well as the socio-historical context of their production and consumption. Of special interest is the exploration on the importance of nō for Rinpa school artists of the 17th-18th centuries as well as for early modern woodblock print artists such as Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-92) and Tsukioka Kōgyo (1869-1927).

Morning tea

Nō/kyōgen costumes: interlacing pattern and text
Dr Monica Bethe, nō expert and director, Medieval Japanese Studies Institute, Kyoto
Costumes in the exhibition are used to discuss the way their colours and patterns enhance the performances, referencing specific nō and kyōgen plays for which they could be used. By comparing similar motifs rendered in different mediums, the lecture will also contrast the elegant refinement of the nō aesthetic with the earthy humour of the kyōgen: where the one suggests spring with weeping cherries on silk, the other presents an oversize radish on hemp. In both cases, the costumes go beyond presenting rank, role and gender to evoke season, setting and mood. Particularly in the nō, the play of pattern works much like the poetry interwoven into the texts, through allusion, image association, variation within repetition, and juxtaposition.

Lunch and exhibition viewing

The inner world of the nō: the influence of esoteric concepts on the classical drama of Japan, as evidenced through an analysis of the choreographic manuals of the Umewaka family
Dr Naohiko Umewaka, nō master and professor, Shizuoka University of Arts and Culture
An analysis of the choreographic manuals of the Umewaka family supports the thesis that choreography in nō theatre is delivered through an actor’s inner control. Evidently, inner control plays a major role in defining this art form. This lecture dissects some of the choreography, examining plays like Dojoji, and brings into context the hidden codes and symbols from the choreographic manuals that only certain nō families have access to, even in the 21st century.

Afternoon tea

The nō mask: a most elegant implement
Stephen Marvin, nō mask collector
Created as tools for dramatic presentation, the physiognomy of nō masks do not really portray specific characters; rather, they evolved over several hundred years into highly stylised representations of supernatural concepts, states of mind and facets of human emotion. This presentation explores symbolism in the conformation of nō masks, knowledge of which enables a much better appreciation of the personae of individual masks. The discussion then highlights how this symbolism defines the ten classes of nō masks.

The world of the amateur nō practitioner: recreating the self through chanting and dance
Dr Katrina Moore, lecturer in anthropology, University of NSW
An important, but often unremarked, element of the nō world is the many amateur performers who engage in nō chanting and dance as a serious leisure activity. Drawing on ethnographic research with amateur practitioners, this lecture examines how the process of learning nō chanting and dance intertwines with the everyday identities of amateur performers, and how the rigors and pleasures of learning chanting and dance take on a particular significance as amateurs grow older.

Concluding remarks
Ann MacArthur, senior coordinator of Asian programs, Art Gallery of NSW

Join the speakers for a glass of wine

More about the speakers

Dr Monica Bethe has studied all aspects of nō practice, as well as the making of masks and its costumes. Her writings on nō as a composite art where text, movement, music and costuming combine to create a total experience include Noh as performance (Cornell East Asia Papers No 16, 1978), Dance in the nō theater (Cornell East Asia Papers No 29, 1982-83) and Noh performance guides (National Noh Theater, Tokyo, 1992-97). She was also integrally involved in producing Patterns and poetry: nō robes from the Lucy Truman Aldrich Collection at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design (1992) and Miracles and mischief: noh and kyōgen theater in Japan (Los Angeles County Museum, 2002).

Stephen Marvin graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Asian studies, went to Japan as a business student in 1981 and spent the next 31 years living alternately in Tokyo and Seoul while working as a financial analyst and fund manager at several international investment banks and hedge funds. His passion for nō masks was ignited by a casual encounter at an exhibition in the Ginza. Since then, Stephen has had the privilege to learn from the grand masters of the Kongō and Umewaka troupes and to study first hand many of the finest mask collections in Japan. He published Heaven has a face, so does hell: the art of the noh mask (Floating World Editions, 2010).

Dr Katrina Moore is a lecturer at the School of Social Sciences at the University of NSW. She is a social anthropologist whose research interests centre on the study of ageing and well-being in contemporary Japan. She explores the relevance of embodied learning and self-development in later life for Japanese older persons using the lens of amateur nō performance. Her book, Joy of noh: embodied learning and discipline in urban Japan (State University of New York Press, 2014) examines the contributions that amateur practitioners of nō chanting and dance make to sustaining this traditional performing art in the 21st century.

Dr Khanh Trinh is curator of Japanese and Korean art at the Art Gallery of NSW. She has curated numerous exhibitions and edited and contributed to their publications, including Kamisaka Sekka: dawn of modern Japanese design (2012); Hymn to beauty: the art of Utamaro (2010) and Genji: the world of the shining prince (2009).

Nō master Dr Naohiko Umewaka was born into a lineage of nō performers that dates back 600 years. He trained under his father, legendary nō master Naoyoshi, and began performing at three years of age. Naohiko continues to perform nō at the highest level, in addition to writing and directing new nō plays and conducting academic research on nō as a professor at Shizuoka University of Arts and Culture.

Image: Nō mask Kasshiki (kokasshiki), Muromachi period, 16th century, Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan

Saturday 2 August 2014, 9.30am

$95 non-member
$85 member
$30 student

Includes morning and afternoon tea, lunch and exhibition entry

Bookings and enquiries: 02 9225 1878


Become a member

Duration 7 hours
Location: Domain Theatre

Related exhibition: Theatre of dreams, theatre of play

Related gallery: Asian galleries