Japanese Noh theater comes to city for first time

You can’t tell by looking at the trees along Kelly Drive, but the annual Cherry Blossom Festival is officially under way.

While the centerpiece events happen in April, this weekend several Japanese-related events are occurring. Presenters are using them to raise money for the Japan Disaster Relief Fund.

For the first time in the city’s 300-year history, traditional Japanese Noh theater will be performed in Philadelphia. The 400-year-old theater style was born in Japan’s feudal era and has remained unchanged.

Monday’s sold-out show by the Kashu-juku Noh Theater of Kyoto at the Kimmel Center was booked a year ago. However the recent string of disasters in Japan could affect how audiences perceive the austere art form.

“The works that already have so much potential for interpretation, you’re going to have people being more sober in their interpretations,” said Dustin Hurt, presenting the show through his company Bowerbird. “It’s very interesting to see something from such a different time that can be seen in a new light, even if it is a tragic circumstance.”

Although Noh theater seems sparse and slow, the content can be lighthearted and farcical–like a vignette about servants trying to drink their master’s sake.

The Philadelphia Orchestra has a long history of performing in Japan, and has developed many friends and partners there. During all of its performances this weekend of Russian composers Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, the Red Cross will be on hand to collect donations for Japanese relief.

“It wasn’t about being to those areas,” said Craig Hamilton, orchestra vice president of government and community relations. “It was knowing what the country as a whole is dealing with and how it’s affecting the rest of the world, but in particular to our industry because of such strong relationships.”

Hamilton said the orchestra musicians and administration staff agreed to invite the Red Cross to be in the lobby of the Kimmel Center before, after, and during intermission of their performances. He said they raised $1,700 during Thursday’s show.

On Saturday night, the International House in West Philadelphia will screen Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1954 classic “Sansho the Bailiff.” All ticket proceeds will go to the Japan Disaster Relief Fund. The director of arts and culture at the International House said patrons will be invited to donate more if they choose.

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