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Akiko Yanagisawa FRSA invites Fellows to join the conversation at 'Noh Reimagined 2018: The Sublime Illusion' at Kings Place London, 29−30 June 2018.

Have you heard of Noh (能)? It is Japan’s iconic theatrical tradition involving music, dance, drama and poetry. Noh is arguably the world’s oldest unbroken theatrical tradition and has been designated a 'Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity' by UNESCO. The repertoire of classical Noh plays performed today includes over 200 pieces.

Intangible cultural heritages are not static but dynamic. The inexhaustible energy of Noh is waiting to be unlocked to shape another chapter in its history.

The festival, 'Noh Reimagined 2018: The Sublime Illusion', will shed light on the unique dramaturgy of Mugen Noh ('phantasmal' Noh), which was conceived by the actor and playwright Zeami (c.1363c.1443).  The festival aims to connect with contemporary arts and science through new dialogues and inter-disciplinary collaborations.

In Mugen Noh, a travelling monk arrives at a historical site and encounters a local person who is actually the shite (main actor). The shite tells the monk the details of a tragic incident from the past that happened there. As the play develops, the shite discloses his identity as the very person to whom the tragic incident happened. The shite then vanishes. The second half of the play unfolds in the dream of the monk. The shite reappears as a ghost and retells the whole tragic event, expressing his regrets and lamentations. The monk offers a prayer to soothe the spirit of the ghost, who then disappears.

Noh is, in a way, a requiem for the dead. Audiences are comforted by hearing the voice of the ghost. Perhaps Noh has never been more relevant to today’s world, given our current uncertainties and tragedies.

In the 'Noh Reimagined' festival, foremost Noh performers from Japan will be joined by the most imaginative British artists and scientists. Prof Semir Zeki, a pioneer of neuroaesthetics, will speak about the subjective state and will illustrate this in collaboration with the Noh performers. Prof Atsushi Iriki will present research into Zeami’s notion of Riken-no-ken (the performers’ ability to separate themselves from their performance through an 'out of body' experience).

Clod Ensemble, a performance company based in London, who have just returned from a research trip to Japan, will present a new work inspired by the restless spirits burdened with shame and regret  a common theme in Noh.

The pianist Leon Michener, whose music features prepared piano and who invented the Klavicon system, will explore the unique Japanese concept of 'Ma'. Ma is the space between physical objects or, in music, the silence between notes. Leon will demonstrate the concept by performing on the piano without physically touching it. 

Photo artist Wiebke Leister’s and sound artist David Toop will work with improvised sound and photographs of life-casts and death-masks to think through the ‘out-of-body experience’ of Hannya (a jealous female demon represented by a Noh mask) who encounters the dreaming monk.

The overall objective of 'Noh Reimagined' is to pose the question 'who are we?' It will consider this question in the light of our lives and contemporary world through the perspective of the amazing cultural heritage that is Noh.

'Noh Reimagined 2018' is curated and produced by Akiko Yanagisawa FRSA. For more information, please follow this link.

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