Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Noh when least expected ~

Yesterday Shane worked on the two pieces in YACB that speak directly about Pete Dutton's story. In every case in YACB, a work intended to make the process of imagining the past more articulate, the challenge is to find real and powerful connections between the artifacts, the characters and events in the story, and lived experiences. The goal is to expand the lived experience of time by a seamless, dreamed fusion with the time of legends, connecting the moment of performance with the ever expanding world of "once upon a time."

As I tried to help him find that entrance into the dance - perhaps "a legendary state of being" would describe it - I found myself remembering the time that I spent with my Noh teacher, Oe Nobuyuki, a master of that ancient form of Japanese performance.
Specifically I recall his firm insistence that the patterns in the dance of the Shark God that he was teaching me had nothing to do with representations, or mimicry, of the movements of actual sharks. In my interpretation of sensai Nobuyuki-san's instruction, the formula for the connection went more like this: dancer's body conforms to enactment of formal pattern; formal pattern conforms to the quality of "kami" - the animating force of the universe, which can "descend" from the otherworld to imbue images, forms and movements with transformative power - in a manner correspondent to the same descent of that power into the shark. The connection is formal, via an intermediary dynamic. It isn't RE-presentation, it is a presentation, in pattern, of the original force that animates a pair of images in two worlds; the artificial world of the fairytale and the referential world of nature it describes.

Shane's connection has been an identification with Pete. As we shared and invented the projected character of Pete, based on the handful of artifacts (stories mainly) associated with him, Pete began to represent the being that Shane wanted to become, a catalyst for self-transformation. In a way it is only by imagining an OTHER being that we can begin to shake off the fetters of habitual patterns and replace them with a new, and hopefully, more vital state of being. The prefix "trans" comes into play in language about this process - transformation, transferral, transcendent - linked by the act of boundary crossing.

Most Noh plays are ghost stories, and YACB conforms to that pattern. In the classic Noh tale, some being, a ghost typically, is stuck in a repeating pattern (the haunting) - until an act by a witness (a wandering monk, usually) liberates the ghost and releases the tension, a lack of harmony, and replaces it with an enlightened state - the truth becomes known and someone is set free. This seems especially potent in the story of a former slave.

In "Dubliners" James Joyce has a story titled "Clay" in which a parlor game of touching substances becomes a form of divination. The main character, a young woman, touches clay, and in the valorized state of game-play, the clay becomes an omen of death, the corpse and the grave. Clay is such an evocative substance - the it-could-become-anything substance of pre-being, post-being, and thereby the substance of otherness. That's why an unformed lump of laterite (native clay) can be the substance site of Esu, the orisa of the crossroads, the intersection of worlds, and the process of transformation.

Shane says he likes being painted with clay, and it seems to fit his young, relatively unformed state of being. In this case, rather than being a sign (redundant) of death, clay, streaked on the body by fingertips, signifies the possibility of transformation and growth.

The question becomes whether a witness (the audience) will recognize it ~ will the formal qualities that we are articulating present the essentially unsee-able reality that animates both the legend and the performer? Time will tell.

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