On March 27th, 2020, Udaka Michishige-Sensei passed away quietly at home surrounded by his family. He had been battling cancer for over a year.
While we are greatly saddened to have to give you this news, we are also relieved that Michishige-Sensei is now free of the trials of his illness, and that he was able to spend his last days at home with his family as he wished.
Michishige-Sensei has left to continue his journey, leaving us to cherish our memories of what we have learned, the gifts we received, and to nurture and pass on the seeds of his passion for noh which he shared with us all so generously. He lives on in each of us.
Please enjoy a glass of wine and sing some lines of utai in his memory, and in celebration of a life well-lived.
It has been a little bit more than three years now since I started to study with Udaka-sensei and it’s difficult to summarize what it has given me on a personal level and how it has influenced my work. However, I would like to try to describe some of my experiences, thoughts, and impressions.
I’m currently pursuing a PhD in Kyoto City University of Art. I have an interdisciplinary approach in which I use sound, video, sculpture, installation and performance. My research is focused on the plural and shifting nature of voice. I consider voice as a privileged medium to transform our delimitations, to go beyond the borders between the self and the otherness, the body and its environment.
I first encountered Nō through a sound recording that I found in a library in France. I was deeply moved and shaken by the voices of both the chorus and the musicians, and for a long time I was mainly interested in Nō for its unique chant and its music.
So, when I started to go to Udaka-sensei’s okeiko, I was thinking of just studying the chant for only few months for my research. And here I am 3 years later, learning how to perform dances accompanied by music. By following Udaka-sensei’s teaching, and being able to see his other students’ okeiko, I started to understand the beauty of Nō dance and how the chant, the dance, the music and all the scenic aspects are inextricably linked to each other.
After learning more about the staging and the narrative, I found very beautiful the unique relation between the voice and the self in Nō, where the same character can be embodied at the same time by the voice of the shite and the multiple voices of the chorus, by the body of the shite and by the mask.
Considering my art work and my research, Nō has taught me a lot, not only about the use of the voice, but about all the performative aspects: the ways of using your body, the use of space, the tension, the intention, the relation with the audience, the construction of all the layers that overlap to form this very sharp shape and powerful energy.
When I first discovered Nō and started to read about it, I learned that it was transmitted from father to son, so for a long time, I thought that this world was inaccessible to common people, and even less so to foreigners. Therefore, I had never thought that I could learn Nō one day. So when Diego introduced me to Udaka-sensei, I felt incredibly lucky. Udaka-sensei’s very warm welcome, the very relaxed discussions we had while drinking tea before each okeiko, helped me to feel at ease. And maybe above all, his dedication to Nō as both an actor and a teacher made me understand how deep and rich this performative art is.
Nō belongs to the kind of art that is limitless, the more you learn about it the more you realize you don’t know. I love this sensation, though it can be dizzying sometimes. Today I keep learning and discovering things that still amaze me and give me a richer understanding of Nō.
On a personal level, being able to learn from Udaka-sensei and his two sons and to witness their total commitment and dedication to their art is very inspiring and pushes me to give the best of myself in my art production as well. Their teaching keeps making me more focused, brings me self-awareness, self-confidence, and a very precious and particular sensitivity that profoundly influence my work and my daily life.
I am very happy to share these moments with all the INI members and I want to thank Udaka-sensei and his family for their great benevolence and the very special attention they give us. The practice of Nō opened new horizons to me and I am glad to know that I still have so much to learn and discover from it.
The INI – International Noh Institute is now accepting applications for its 2018 Summer Intensive Program. Participants will take part in an intensive training period, during which they will study Noh chant and dance at the INI training space in Kyoto with Kongō school Noh actors of the Udaka family: Michishige, Tatsushige, Norishige, and Haruna. During the program, participants will learn about various aspects of noh performance, including chant, dance, masks, and costumes. The training period will culminate with a short performance as part of the the Udaka-kai recital on a noh stage in Kyoto, featuring professional actors. The program is coordinated by Dr. Diego Pellecchia (Kyoto Sangyo University).
Application deadline: June, 1st 2018. Early applications are strongly encouraged.
Train intensively in noh chant and dance, following the traditional methods of the Kongō school.
Practice in a small group at the okeikoba, private training space of a noh master, for an immersive experience.
Perform on a noh stage together with professional actors.
Watch noh performances in the Kansai area.
Experience living in Kyoto, the heart of Japanese traditional culture.
INI SUMMER INTENSIVE PROGRAM 2018
Requirements: Anyone is welcome to join – no previous knowledge of Noh is required. Lessons are given in English and/or Japanese. Past year program attendees are entitled to the repeater discount of 10,000¥, as shown below.
Place: INI Training Space, Kyoto
Training dates and times: August 1-12* from 10:00 to 15:00
*Lessons will not take place on August 4,5 and 11
Chant/dance lessons, basic materials (according to the participant’s level), participation to the August 12th recital, certificate of completion.
Fees do not include:
Tabi white split-toe socks (around 700¥)
Kongō-style Noh dance fan (5,000¥)
Rental of Kimono and Hakama for the recital (10,000¥)
Participation in the post-recital party (5,000¥)
Transportation, accommodation, and any other personal expenses.
How to apply: send us an email at ini.kyoto[at]gmail.com Please attach your C.V. and a brief statement of interest.
Application deadline: June, 1st 2018
*Late applications will be considered only if places are still available.
The INI Summer Intensive Program 2017 is now over. Here in Kyoto, a cool breeze is blowing and the hills that surround the city are getting ready to turn into their gorgeous autumn color. As always after one of our intensive workshop, we publish comments from the participants on our blog. Here we introduce trainee Tina Dermois. Tina is a masters student from Leiden University, currently enrolled in the Study in Kyoto Program at Ritsumeikan University. She is interested in Japanese arts and crafts and is currently working on a thesis on Noh prints. This summer she took the INI Summer Intensive Program in order to deepen her knowledge of Noh through practice.
Diego Pellecchia, course coordinator.
My experience with the INI
by Tina Dermois
Before one of my fellow students at Leiden University told me about this program, I had never heard about it before. I knew that there are lessons provided for amateurs, but it had never occurred to me that it would be possible to participate in this kind of intensive program. However, when I found out about this opportunity, I was immediately hyped up. Of course, I was still not sure if I would be able to attend this summer, but it would be a good chance to come in contact with Noh other than books and videos and a valuable addition to my practical knowledge for my final MA Thesis on Noh in woodblock prints. There is no better way to understand an art form than by practicing itself.
To be honest, when I was invited to participate I was not sure what I was supposed to expect of the okeiko and the teacher(s). I read through the schedule, but I was still not sure if the lessons were going to be strict or the opposite, or if I would be able to remember a whole piece. So, I was quite nervous the first day at practice. We started the day with some general explanation about noh, their masks and costumes by Toshishige Udaka, the oldest son of Michishige Udaka, and Diego Pellecchia. After that, we had to walk or rather glide across the floor. It was really complicated because you were supposed to keep your posture straight and relaxed while moving to the other side of the stage and keep your body at height. Throughout the lessons, it was quite hard thinking about all the tips that the teachers gave us, but in the end, everyone was able to remember the whole routine. Moreover, these past ten days of practice were also interesting because we were able to follow classes from three different teachers and observe how they all performed the same piece in a slightly different way up close which was a rare opportunity. This made it also a little more confusing to remember the movements sometimes when we were to imitate them.
What was also really nice about the program was that it was quite diverse. We did not only practice dancing but also chanting and meditating. Throughout the ten days, there was a comfortable atmosphere where we could ask many questions to the actors while having tea and a snack.
However, what I liked the most was the opportunity to visit Noh performances not only indoors, but also outdoors. The first performance that we were lucky to see the final rehearsals for one of the pieces we visited. The other one was performed at Fushimi Inari, a famous shrine in Kyoto which became one of the most memorable Noh performances I have ever seen thanks to the setting. The performance began just when the sun was setting and enveloped the stage, shining on the mask and the hair decorations of the main actor mystifying the whole scene while the wind was blowing causing the leaves to softly rustle. Lastly, we were able to attend a performance inside the temple Hōrinji, where we were sitting on the same “stage” as the rite was acted out. The actor was so close to us that it was almost impossible not to feel the power and spirituality of the role and the performer.
Thanks to the classes and the performances provided by INI, I will never be able to look at Noh in the same way. It was an unforgettable experience and if I have the chance I would definitely want to participate once more.
The INI summer intensive program 2017 is now over and we would like to take the chance to thank all participants and instructors! This year for the first time Udaka Michishige was joined by his sons Tatsushige and Norishige as main instructors. It has been a wonderful edition of our summer program, with many highlights, such as observing the rehearsals for two full noh plays and attending many performances both open-air (Hagoromo and Kokaji at Fushimi-Inari Taisha, Makura-jido at Horinji in Arashiyama) and indoors (Nonomiya and Nue at the Kongo Noh Theatre). While the main target of the workshop is to introduce participants to the basics of noh theatre chant and dance, it is very important that they can get as much exposure to performance as possible. This is often difficult to achieve during short training periods because noh typically is performed in one-off events, without repetitions. We are glad that our participants could enjoy such a variety of performances this year.
As for the workshop, this year we decided to start with a difficult piece for an absolute beginner: the shimai dance excerpt from the Noh Shojo (‘The Wine Elf’). This dance involves complex fan routines and combines mimetic and abstract movements. Despite the difficulty, all participants worked hard and could successfully memorize the dance in addition to the chant. Finally, a selected few had the privilege to perform the dance wearing the shojo mask, normally only used in the full performance with costumes and mask.
We hope that participants will keep up their interest in noh and that they will visit us again in Kyoto!
Dear INI members and supporters, Happy New Year! 明けましておめでとうございます！
2016 has been a pretty intense year for all of us. Many more challenges are awaiting in 2017 and we are ready to meet them with enthusiasm and determination!
Here is a photo of Udaka-sensei’s Okina-kazari: ritual decorations and offerings, displayed along with objects related to Okina. Hanging above the altar you see Udaka-sensei’s latest Hakushiki-jo, the mask used for the role of Okina. (There will be a free performance of Okina at Yasaka Shrine on January 3 from 09:00am, followed by Utai-zome – chant and dance performance at the Kongo Noh Theatre from 12:00)
We hope to see you all soon – we will post information on the 2017 Summer Intensive Training in the next few days, so keep an eye on that. How exciting!
Again Happy New Year – all best wishes for a great 2017!
Hana Lethen lives in Texas and is a junior at Princeton University majoring in Comparative Literature, with a focus on Japanese and Russian language and culture. She spent her spring semester 2016 in Kyoto studying Japanese language, society, and traditional theater through Columbia University’s Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies.
Hana decided to take her exploration of Noh to a higher level, attending a number of performances along with fellow KCJS students, and also practicing Noh chant and dance with the INI. Here are a few insightful reflections on her experience.
Diego Pellecchia, INI Junior Director
Discovering Noh Through Dance
by Hana Lethen
When I asked Monica Bethe, the professor for a course on Noh that I took this past semester, for support regarding my final paper comparing ballet and dance in Noh theater, I was expecting book recommendations. So, I was a bit incredulous when she suggested that I take lessons— “the best way to learn is to do”—but soon realized what a great opportunity had presented itself.
With an introduction and much help from Diego Pellecchia, who was co-teaching my Noh course, I went to okeiko every week during my last month in Kyoto. On the first day, I was very nervous. The only thing I knew to expect was that okeiko would be very different from practicing ballet, which I have done since I was five years old. I had an impression of Noh as a very traditional and elite art, so I expected okeiko to be somewhat rigid.
However, when I entered the okeikoba, I was surprised by the intimate and almost relaxed atmosphere. First, we spent about an hour having tea and chatting with Udaka-sensei, who, for all his talents and experience, was very kind and not at all intimidating. It was during this tea session that I began to realize that the constrained schedule of normal life does not apply to the okeikoba. Time here is fluid; okeiko starts and ends basically when Udaka-sensei deems appropriate. Noh is a combination of religious ritual and art—neither of these can be rushed.
Learning the hiraki kata
We began my first lesson with a bit of practice chanting the text which accompanied the dance from Tsurukame which I was to learn. I have always dreaded singing or speaking onstage, so my thoughts at this point were along the lines of “I came here to learn the dance, not the chanting…” But, I realized that a large part of the beauty of Noh comes from the unity of dance and poetic text, so I overcame my initial reservations.
Learning the dance, too, proved to be as much about “letting go” as it was about precisely learning the movements. Having extensive ballet experience was helpful in terms of coordination, but it also meant that I had some assumptions about dance lessons that were challenged in okeiko. At first, I somewhat expected Udaka-sensei to break down each movement for me, as a ballet teacher would do. More than this, however, my okeiko involved watching Udaka-sensei’s movements and imitating them as carefully as possible. Like much Japanese traditional fine art, dance in Noh is subtle, but expressive; restrained, but powerful. Although some movements felt unfamiliar, I tried to understand the general flow of the dance.
I was impressed by the atmosphere at the okeikoba of humility and of respect for the art of Noh. I was also touched by the attention Udaka-sensei devoted to each of his pupils—even to me, a complete novice. Reading and learning about Noh, and also seeing Noh performances, as part of my academic course was extremely valuable, but getting a small glimpse from the performer’s perspective in okeikomade Noh come alive for me in an entirely new, exciting way. Professor Bethe was right—I am not sure how I would have written my final paper for her and Diego’s course without firsthand experience of dance in Noh. And, ultimately, I gained much more from okeiko than a final paper. I developed a very special appreciation for Noh through an experience that I would love to have again if I get the chance.
2016 – the year of the Monkey – is here and it is time to celebrate (Noh style) at the INI headquarters in Kyoto.
The chōken dance cloak with the golden phoenix design used in the Noh Hagoromo, and the Okina kazari doll and decoration are on display. After performing at the Yasaka Shinto shrine, Kongo school actors will perform celebratory pieces at the Kongo Noh theatre this aftenoon.
In the early hours of September 13th 2015 Udaka Michishige continued with putting the finishing touches on the Deigan mask he would use later that day in his performance of Teika, the center piece of the 16th Seirannoh-no-kai at the Kongo Noh Theatre: adding more color, polishing, pausing to check the effect once again. This was the latest effort in the search for the essence of the expression of the Deigan mask, in this case for the essence that would most effectively portrayal his interpretation of the spirit of Princess Shokushi Naishinno. As always the process was continuing until the last possible moment.
His thoughts at this time as he kept on with this search included welcoming the 45th observance of his independence as a Noh actor and also his wishes for INI members. “Independence” can mean embarking on a lonely road and uncompromising battle of seeking the essence of your art. Michishige continues to be his own harshest critic and taskmaster, but he also treasures and finds strength in fellow travellers on the path. He hopes that you, too, as his fellow travellers are keeping to your path of seeking the highest essence in your endeavours.
Michishige also looks forward to sharing in training and performing Noh with as many of you as possible in the Gala Noh Recital at the Kongo Noh Theatre on August 21, 2016. More details will be coming soon, but please put the date down on your calendar and get in touch with us with any questions. As always at INI will do what we can to facilitate your participation.
In closing, the performance of Teika was very well received. Here are a few photos from the performance though they are hardly a substitute for the experience of the performance itself.
Dorothée Neff is a young member of the Berliner Ensemble, the legendary theatre company founded by Bertolt Brecht in Berlin soon after the end of WWII. Dorothée has spent a month studying Noh with Udaka Michishige and the INI, seeking to expand her knowledge of performance beyond the boundaries of Western theatre. It has been a great pleasure to welcome her and see her develop dance and chant skills in such a short time. Sadia Gordon, whom we introduced in an earlier post, and Dorothée formed a great combo, helping each other as they moved through their first steps in the world of Noh. Below are some reflections she was kind enough to send us. I love the way she describes the INI as an intimate group in which the Noh tradition is transmitted from heart to heart, mind to mind, body to body.
Diego Pellecchia, INI Junior Director
My first time in Japan, practicing Noh
by Dorothée Neff
After performing in Robert Wilsons “Faust I & II” at the Berliner Ensemble, I very much felt the desire to travel to Japan to learn more about Noh Theatre, since I could feel a very strong influence of Japanese culture and theatre on his theatrical work with us actors in Berlin. Before my first lesson at the Okeikoba, Diego Pellecchia introduced me and three of my fellow students to Japanese manners – how we should sit, greet, behave and talk in front of our teacher, Udaka Michishige. I soon realized that Japanese culture and Noh theatre go hand in hand together and I could never do one without being conscious about the other.
The first day I went to the okeikoba, I entered a room with a wooden stage and a table in the front. It felt as if time passed slower. When entering and leaving the rehearsal room we would first take off our shoes in front of the rehearsal room, enter and kneel in front of Udaka Michishige and our fellow students, bow and thank them for giving us the chance to study with him. In doing so every day, I felt like I was entering a very new and unique place, very different from everything I knew before. In the same breath I felt the power of tradition and heritage and how important it is to have a sense of where one is coming from.
From left to right, Sadia Gordon, Udaka Michishige, Dorothée Neff
A very special time during my stay in Kyoto at the International Noh Institute was an intensive three day rehearsal period in Matsuyama with Udaka Michishige, Diego Pellecchia and Rebecca Ogamo Teele, during which I had the stage, time and support to practice “Shojo” intensively. Since every movement in Noh Theatre, every gesture is very slow, I felt how important it is to be completely aware and conscious, with all of my body and energy, how important it is to stretch out my body, to fill the room with my energy and spirit. What I enjoyed most was the chanting. First I needed time to grasp the different pitches and sounds when chanting Noh in Japanese, but after Matsuyama, I felt I became more familiar with the sounds and pitches. “Familiar” is definitely a word I would use when describing the INI. It is a very intimate, one-to-one teaching atmosphere, something I had searched for for a very long time, and never found back home, but found when I came to the INI in Kyoto. I only realized after leaving Kyoto how much I missed and longed for “time”, “traditions” and “familiarity” as in a sense of trust and well-being based on a shared etiquette of respect.
When I came back to Germany, my friends and family asked me what I learned and what I could take on board from Japan, but I never knew what to say in the beginning, although I knew there was something. But it wasn’t until an audition, when I felt how much time, and space I took when speaking, moving, breathing, and observing, that I knew what it was. A teacher once said to me: “A pianist would not leave out one note when playing Beethoven, so why would you, as an actress, rush through your lines?” And now, after coming back from Japan, I feel how much I enjoy saying my words, how important it is for me that those down stage understand what I mean. For the first time, there is space, and I take it, with all of me, my breath and soul and it feels alive.