Noh Festival Brings Japanese Theater to Scripps


Five years ago, Scripps Associate Professor of Music Anne Harley met Koji Nakano, a professor of music composition at Burapha University in Thailand. Now, they have come together in celebration of one of the oldest theatrical forms in the world still being performed today. This week, Scripps and Pomona Colleges are hosting an interdisciplinary festival of Japanese Noh Theatre that includes lectures, workshops, art exhibitions, and performances, as well as the world premiere of Nakano’s Imagined Sceneries, commissioned for the occasion.

Noh Theater incorporates music, dance, and drama to retell scenes from Japanese literature, such as The Tale of Genji, an 11th-century story considered by many scholars to be the oldest novel in the world. The Noh tradition dates to the 14th century and is rooted in Chinese popular entertainment that filtered into Japanese culture beginning in the 8th century. Scripps’ interdisciplinary course offerings on Japanese art and The Tale of Genji set the academic stage for the festival, allowing students to further engage with the topic through the event series.

This project came about through the connections of people and circumstances, reflecting the Buddhist concept called “en” in Japanese. From the conception of the project, to the grant writing, collaboration, and execution of the event, the series came out of countless causes and conditions.

“The music is the tip of the iceberg,” Harley explained. “The actual process of creating connections across countries, colleges and disciplines is just as central to our work as the piece we will premiere. We are convening community through this event.” Nakano’ s Imagined Sceneries will be performed in the Clark Humanities Museum alongside nine centuries-old Japanese woodblock prints borrowed from Scripps’ Ruth Chandler Williamson Art Gallery, transporting the audience to Heian-era Kyoto, where The Tale of Genji is set. The work will also feature audio recordings from modern-day Kyoto, through which Nakano hopes to inspire his 21st-century audience to contemplate the relationship between the ancient and modern.

Other highlights of the Noh festival include On Stage: Japanese Theater Prints and Costumes, at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Art Gallery. Curated by Scripps Professor of Art Bruce Coats, this exhibition is possible only because of years of acquiring prints depicting scenes from Japanese Kabuki, Noh, and Bunraku Theater. Presently, Scripps holds 450 Noh prints, 400 Kabuki prints, and a dozen Bunraku prints. The collection started with prints depicting Japanese landscapes that were the setting for dramas, eventually growing to include prints of the actors who appeared in those works. Coats selected 40 prints by eight artists, all depicting scenes from The Tale of Genji as a way of highlighting the artists’ varying styles and interpretations.

Scripps senior Isabella Ramos ’17 curated a special presentation of woodblock prints at the Clark Humanities Museum, The Tale of Genji: Reimagined, which will be on view for the duration of the festival. Her exhibit inspired Nakano’s composition: each movement in the commissioned work is linked explicitly with a particular print. Ramos’ exhibit also serves as the performance stage for the premiere. Ramos, an art history major who has taken voice lessons with Harley since she was a first-year, was interested in linking the music and art elements after reading The Tale of Genji in Coats’ Core III class, Creating and Recreating Genji. She assisted with other aspects of the festival as well, work that will inform her senior thesis.

The Noh festival runs through October 29. For more information on the Noh Theater festival, click here.