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.
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.