Thu, 05 Oct 2000

Classical Japanese drama Noh performance stuns Balinese

Text by I Wayan Juniarta, photos by Murdani Usman

DENPASAR, Bali (JP): Hundreds of Balinese were astonished by a rare performance of the centuries-old classical Japanese drama Noh by a Kyoto-based theatrical troupe.

Staged at the Ardha Candra amphitheater in Bali's capital Denpasar on Sept. 26, the troupe, Komparo-Ryu Noh, attracted a huge audience as they enriched the stages of Bali with their outstanding performance.

A member of the organizing committee said the troupe was one of the best Noh theatrical groups in Japan. The group, he said, has already existed since the birth of Noh in the 14th century.

"I am so surprised that a country so far advanced in technology can still provide space for an art form so slow and classical in nature," Balinese playwright Mas Ruscitadewi said.

For many ordinary Balinese, Japan is most often associated with technological gadgets and hi-tech electronic products, and a generous people who often vacation in Bali.

"We rarely hear about the country's achievements in arts and culture. All that we know about Japan is the sumo and ninjas," one person in attendance at the performance said.

Noh, also spelled No, is a traditional Japanese theatrical form and one of the oldest extant theatrical forms in the world, according to the Encyclopedia Americana.

The word No literally means "talent" and "skill". Unlike Western-type dramas which employ a narrative style, Noh performers are simply storytellers who use their visual appearances and their movements to suggest the essence of their tale, rather than enacting it.

Developed from ancient forms of dance-drama and a variety of ritual festivals at shrines and temples between the 12th and 13th centuries, Noh took shape as a form of theater in the 14th century.

Kana'ami Kiyotsugu (1333 to 1384) and his son Zeami Motokiyo wrote many of the most beautiful and exemplary Noh texts, including Matsukaze (Wind in the Pines) by Kan'ami and Takasago by Zeami.

Under the patronage of Shogun Yoshimitsu, Zeami also formulated the principles of Noh theater which have guided its artists for centuries.

Noh plays include solemn dances and were written in poetical forms of the ancient Japanese language. Some of the actors wear small, elegant masks. Noh plays often include kyogen, humorous sketches performed as interludes between the scenes of the play.

The performance by the Kyoto Noh troupe was co-organized by Paras Paros, the Bali Tourism Executives Association, and several Japanese people.

The performance was, in the words of the Paras Paros chairman, an effort to build a warmer cultural bridge between Bali and Japan.

"It was also a way to underline the prevailing stable security situation in Bali. Japan is one of Bali's most important tourism markets today," Suryawan said.

Suryawan pointed out that the Japanese community in Bali, led by Mitsuo Takabane and Takao Baba, successfully raised hundreds of million of rupiah to enable the Noh troupe to perform in Bali.

"We love Bali very much, and the performance is one of our ways to strengthen the Balinese-Japanese friendship," Takao said.

To underline the theme of friendship, a Balinese jegog, or bamboo musical ensemble, was given the opportunity to open the show.

The Suara Agung jegog musical group has frequently performed in Japan, and they presented a number of dynamic and exhilarating compositions that night.

"The atmosphere of the performance was very much a contrast. First we were entertained by the speedy and melodious jegog, and then we were absorbed in the slow, calm Noh," Mas Ruscitadewi stated.