I am currently living in Japan, with a Cultural Activities Visa that allows me to make a tailored program for myself. In addition to Noh Theatre, I am also currently studying butoh, kyūdō, and several dance styles. I arrived in Kyoto after having studied the Ko-tsuzumi for a few months in Kanazawa. I was lucky enough to get into Japan, considering the global pandemic that was going on. This also explains the special conditions in which I took the Summer Intensive Course. I was the only student who was able to get into the country. Therefore, my experience was, once again, quite unique.
I was born in a family that treasures the arts and have always felt a strong connection to them, especially theatre. I first encountered Noh through a workshop I took out of curiosity a few years ago, when I was living in Belgium. I was practicing Iaido at the time and it seemed like a natural meeting point between Japanese Martial Arts and Theatre.
At first, I didn’t really know what to think of it. I knew I was in love with it, but couldn’t explain where my fascination for it was coming from. Everything about it seemed like it came from so far away that I doubted I would ever begin to understand it. I imagined it’d be a one-time workshop that’d just be a little experience outside my comfort zone.
I entered a Lecoq Technique Movement Theatre school in Brussels. That’s where I crossed paths with Noh again. Indeed, part of Jacques Lecoq’s work method was created from research and work with Noh professionals; mask-makers, and actors. This discovery, among other things, made me realize that, to become the actress I wished to be, I needed to broaden my horizons and truly emerge myself in foreign performing art forms, and that Japan was the place where I’d start my research. With all that in mind, I participated in the Intensive Summer Workshop at the INI in Kyoto.
My time with Udaka Tatsushige-sensei wasn’t just about learning to dance and to sing one piece. I am truly thankful for the gift of time and of knowledge he gave me.
He made me see that Noh is more than just an ancient art form, but that it has very modern sides to it, that it evolves while respecting its roots. What makes it come to life, and, in my opinion, has helped to keep it alive for so many centuries, is its unique structure and the dedication with which it was passed onto the following generations. Being able to witness it, and to get a glimpse of what it means to be a Noh professional (an actor, mask-maker, or even musician), was incredibly inspiring to me. When I arrived on the first day, my knowledge of Noh theatre was similar to a seed that had just been planted in fresh ground. It needed that little push for its roots to go through the shell, and for the plant to start growing in hope of reaching the surface.
On a more personal note, I can say that Noh gave me a kind of stability that I’d never experienced before. Working with kata that have been passed down for hundreds of years gave me a feeling of safety and grounding during the practice. Repeating, again and again, the same movements without having to question myself every step of the way was very refreshing. The different concepts found in the practice of Noh showed me a new way to work on my future projects.
Udaka-sensei’s teaching method helped me get rid of the feeling of being just an outsider trying to get a grasp of a different culture. Through conversations before or after okeiko, he shared his insights with me and helped shape the way I look at theatre today. And for that, I will always be thankful to him and to the INI members. There is an infinitely long path ahead of me. One that I cannot wait to continue walking on.