Participants will study nō dance and chant according to the Kongō school tradition, and learn about various aspects of nō performance, including masks and costumes. The training period will culminate with a public recital alongside professional actors on a nō stage located within a gorgeous Kyoto-style traditional townhouse.
How does training work?
Nō classes take place daily, in the morning, or in the early afternoon. Every day you will be coached by one of our instructors, and you will be encouraged to practice independently in preparation for the following class. (A day-to-day calendar will be announced after the selection is complete).
What makes studying with the INI unique?
The intimate environment in which lessons take place, reflecting the traditional nō training style, allows students to interact directly with the teachers. Lessons comprise both group work and one-to-one coaching.
For this 2023 edition of our Summer Intensive, the INI will collaborate with Discover Noh in Kyoto. Participants will be given the opportunity to explore Kyoto with a professional tour guide, discovering the deep connections between nō and the city.
Train intensively in noh dance and chant.
Practice in a small group for an immersive experience.
Fees include : Dance/chant lessons, materials, Kongō school nō fan, participation in the final recital, and a certificate of completion. Fees do not include: White tabi (split-toe socks), transportation, accommodation, and any other personal expenses.
We decided to hold the INI Summer Intensive Workshop in the summer of 2022, while Japan still kept its borders closed to those without a residence/work/study visa, knowing that it would be difficult to welcome guests from abroad. We were glad to receive a number of requests, though only two applicants, Arden Taylor (USA) and Florian Ehrard (GER) were eventually able to participate. While Florian already studied with the INI in the past, Arden joined us for the first time. Arden was kind enough to sent us a thoughtful reflection on the his experience with the INI.
Diego Pellecchia – INI Program Coordinator
I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have had the chance to participate in the International Noh Institute’s summer training program 2022. I am still a novice in noh, having begun my studies of the texts in the third year of my MA at the University of Washington’s Japanese literature program. There is so much to explore just in the renga-influenced text itself, even though I do enjoy the performances, that I assumed (as is perhaps the vice of most literature majors) that the most interesting part of noh was its text. I never could have imagined, before experiencing it first hand, what it really means for a performance tradition to be “transmitted.”
For this year’s program, we had three instructors: Diego Pellecchia, Udaka Tastushige and Udaka Norishige. Diego was our contact while preparing for the program, and was the most strict with us (which I was grateful for) about etiquette during practice. As an American, and particularly a white masculine academic, I recognize the need to practice cultural appreciation rather than appropriation, and Diego was able to help us to be as respectful as possible and to convey our gratitude. Diego is also a professor at Kyoto Sangyo University, which means that he was able to impart not only the practical, but also the academic features of noh throughout our practice. Diego’s passion for the art is contagious, and the seriousness with which he treats it gives weight to everything we do together.
The two brothers who were our main instructors, Udaka Tatsushige and Udaka Norishige, had nearly opposite teaching styles, but both myself and my cohort agreed that we felt incredibly lucky precisely because of this. The two styles could be summarized thusly: start from the mind, and start from the body. Like Diego, most of Tatsushige’s lessons were conducted in English. Tatsushige speaks excellent English and takes a very cerebral approach to his practice, which he is very good at conveying. He claims that the process of learning noh was not instinctive for him, and exactly because of that, he developed his own method for conceiving of the motions and intentions behind standard forms in the dance and acting aspects of the performance. It is difficult for me to put into words how much I felt was generously given to me in our talks between practice.
Norishige, on the other hand, more often focuses on the precision of the movements themselves. He speaks in a soft and endearing Kyoto accent, and most often arrived to practice in a yukata. On our first day, he offered us tea and Japanese sweets with the traditional Kyoto omotenashi (welcoming spirit). In addition to the precise corrections of our movements (which effectively cross any language barrier, as they only require observation and imitation), Norishige also took the time to share aspects of the practice that he himself finds fascinating. Among these were photographs of performances he and others had partaken in, as well as the depth and complexity of the musical accompaniment to full noh performances. On one afternoon, I arrived to the training space to find him practicing the kotsuzumi (the smaller of two drums usually included in performance). Although it sounded just like a performance drum to me, he laughed and kindly explained that this was a practice drum, with synthetic materials that – though perfectly suitable for practice – lacked the warmth, resonance, and indeed the organic nature of the true instruments. Numerous engages like this with all three instructors added immeasurable depth and value to the experience, which I am now struggling to put into words.
This year, we also had the additional treat to be able to observe and learn about mask carving from another of the Udaka siblings, Udaka Keiko. Keiko was extremely patient and just as forthcoming as her brothers in explaining her philosophy toward the art, though indeed quite different from the performance aspect. I was taken aback not only by the extremely time-consuming and diligent process of construction, but by Keiko’s unique relationship with her art. She explained that, while the heights in artistry achieved with the Sengoku Period (1467-1615) masks have likely been unmatched even today – resulting in the prevalence of copy-making within the industry – there is never a peak or final stage in the world of art, even one as steeped in tradition as noh. To move past what seems to be a peak in aesthetics requires innovation, and also courage, and yet to reach that point in the first place also requires a lifelong devotion to the history and living nature of the art as it exists today.
I had initially planned to extend my stay in Japan and try another noh training program as well, which also happened to be run out of Kyoto, even though the Kongo School is the only one of the five main noh schools consistently active since the Muromachi Period (1336-1573) that is based in Kyoto. As it happens I was not able to change my flight, but – even though I am loath to leave Kyoto – I am paradoxically grateful for this too. I admit a slight obsession with noh, to the extent that I would gladly take any opportunity to learn more about it. But my main takeaway from this program is, as I said at the start, the importance of transmission.
Noh is not the kind of art that can be explored or studied on one’s own, no matter the effort. It is not a static object that can be bought or handed off at a distance. It is a living tradition that has been conveyed to the present day, master to pupil, for the last seven centuries. While the basics of the art remain the same in each of the five schools, the deeper understanding of what precisely is aesthetically the most appealing and why are unique to each school. But most importantly, noh practice is not simply “practice,” but – as explained by Tatsushige – a combination of “renshu” and “keiko.” While both of these words translate to English as “practice,” only renshu refers to the simple process of repeating certain actions until muscle memory is created. “Keiko” on the other hand involves something much deeper. It involves relationships; between one’s teacher and oneself, oneself and one’s fellow students, and perhaps most of all, between oneself and the piece one is practicing. Anyone can perform the movements in noh, as few are physically demanding and modifications exist for any movements that are. But the main thing that I learned, especially from watching my teachers perform on our last day together, is that two people performing the same piece, even doing the same movements to millimetric precision, will not produce the same results.
Noh is not just an art in itself, it is a tradition that is passed from person to person. Part of that tradition includes a relationship with one’s teacher. It is through this relationship that one achieves understanding of each individual piece, and it is only upon achieving this understanding that the potential for achieving mastery lies. It is said that one cannot be considered a master of noh until reaching the age of sixty, at which point one is considered likely proficient enough to perform certain pieces considered to be of particularly high (or “heavy” in Japanese) kurai (rank). In other words, true mastery of noh requires a lifelong practice, and even then, there are still depths to be reached within this rich tradition. Part of our keiko necessarily included sharing a part of ourselves with our teachers, as they did with us. In that way, as the tradition became a part of us, we too became a part of it.
I was especially lucky – although it is hard not to feel equally guilty about this – that the travel restrictions to Japan meant that there was only one student besides myself in the program this year. This meant that we were able to not only receive very individualized lessons, but also to share in just that much more time with our teachers. It would be difficult to choose a favorite aspect of the program, but the part I most miss is undoubtedly the conversations shared with them. Anyone can, and everyone should, take this incredible opportunity to take part in this centuries-long tradition of performing arts in Japan’s beautiful cultural capital.
The INI – International Noh Institute is now accepting applications for its 2022 Summer Intensive Program. Participants will study noh dance and chant according to the Kongo school tradition, and learn about various aspects of noh performance, including masks and costumes. The training period will culminate with the participation in a recital.
Train intensively in noh dance and chant. Practice in a small group for an immersive experience.
Perform with professional actors.
Watch noh performances on traditional stages.
Visit noh-related historical locations.
Experience living in the ancient capital, Kyoto.
Training period : July 11-24, 2022
Recital: July 24th
Fees: Regular ¥ 70,000 Repeater ¥ 60,000 INI member ¥50,000
Capacity: 8 participants
Fees include : Dance/chant lessons, materials, Kongo school fan, participation in the July 24th recital, and a certificate of completion. Fees do not include: White tabi (split-toe socks – around ¥700- ¥1000/pair) Transportation, accommodation, and any other personal expenses.
Director: Diego Pellecchia (Kyoto Sangyo University)
How to apply: Send an email to ini.kyoto[at]gmail.com Please attach your C.V. and a brief statement of interest. We are aware that traveling may be difficult during the current pandemic. Feel free to contact us for more information about the program.
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.