- NŌ Theatre Transversal
This collection of nineteen papers, plus an introduction by the editors, represents the outcome of a symposium held in Trier, Germany, in March 2006. The symposium was called “Nō Theatre Transversal: Crossing Borders between Genres, Cultures and Identities” and included scholars and practitioners from eight countries. It was the outcome of a three-year research project, “New Identities for the Japanese Nō Theatre in a Globalized World,” a joint undertaking of the Department of Japanese Studies, Trier University, and the Department of Theatre Studies, University of Mainz. One of the editors, Stanca Scholz-Cionca, is a Japanese theatre specialist at Trier University, while the other, Christopher Balme, writes mainly on German and intercultural theatre, and is at the University of Munich. Papers originally written in German or Japanese have been translated by several people, themselves participants in the symposium; for some reason, not all their contributions are credited. Although invited, I was unable to attend the symposium and so am happy to have had a chance to read these published versions of the papers that were presented.
Related symposiums have been relatively common over the past decade and a half as scholarship has taken an increasing interest in the global dimensions of Japanese theatre. The border crossing effects of Japanese theatre were most notably on display in the 1997–1998 “Japanese Theatre in the World” exhibition shown in New York and Munich, with a symposium held in Munich, which led to the collection Japanese Theatre on the International Stage [End Page 602] (Leiden: Brill, 2000), coedited by Scholz and myself. The symposium represented in the present book was focused exclusively on nō and its place in the intercultural scene.
The multivalent dimensions of nō’s internationality are suggested by the somewhat ambiguous term “transversal,” which has theoretical uses that go beyond those at play in this book’s papers. Intercultural or transcultural might be more suitable terms to describe what this symposium sought to grapple with. As it is, the word “transversal” appears, apart from the introduction, in only two papers toward the end, and not necessarily with the same nuances.
Anyone who has ever organized a scholarly symposium is aware of the difficulty of getting contributors to focus on the chosen theme. Thus not all the essays in this volume fit comfortably into the framework of “Nō Theatre Transversal,” whose goal was to explore “the complex relationship between nō and modernization” (7), a subject worthy of study because, as the editors believe: “from the standpoint of a theatre historian, nō is the Japanese theatre form that has had the most profound influence on Western theatre, especially on the experimental avant-garde” (7). Despite nō’s not having been seen in the West until 1954, it already was well known there through translations and expositions by Western writers (mainly in English, French, and German), and even through a tiny number of plays by William Butler Yeats that were inspired by this theatre he had never seen. (Even Arthur Waley, whose nō translations in the 1920s were extremely influential, never visited Japan. Waley, it should be noted, is not mentioned in any of the essays, although Ezra Pound is.) The subject of such influence arises in several essays but is most specifically addressed in two fine essays, Balme’s “‘Too Close for Comfort’: Benjamin Britten’s Curlew River and the Reception of Nō after 1945,” and Juliane Weigel’s clumsily titled “Interculturality or Exotism [sic]? Music and Dramatic Structure in the Opera Silkkirumpu Based on the Nō Aya no Tsuzumi.”
Nō, for all its esotericism, antiquity, and ritualism, is now broadly known throughout the world, even though the average educated person—not to mention many professional theatre artists and writers—would probably not be able to tell you the difference between it and kabuki. Still, its artists regularly tour abroad and give workshops and demonstrations, while a modest migration of interested practitioners wends its way annually to Japan in search of training opportunities. One can even spend several weeks of intensive training in rural Pennsylvania...