Nō or Noh
- A formal Japanese dance drama that utilizes courtly language,music, and dance to create an emotional mood rather than tell a story.The material for Nō drama comes from Buddhist scriptures,Japanese and Chinese mythology, poems, novels, and other sources,while the dancing is derived from ancient temple and folk dances.Nō seeks the quality of yugen, or gentle gracefulness,by using indirectness, restraint, and suggestion. In performance theplays, which all end in a stately dance, are interspersed with comicinterludes called Kyōgen ('mad words').
The genre was created by Kiyostsugu Kanami (1333 - 84),who combined a style of dancing and tumbling known as sarugaku-nō('monkey music') with Zen Buddhist themes. The name of the new dramawas eventually shortened to Nō. The form was developedby Kanami's son Zeami (1363 - 1443), who wrote some 200 playsin the style. Kanami's aristocratic entertainments were supportedby the shoguns, and performers were accorded the status of samuraiwarriors.
The dramas are acted on a raised stage with a square roofsupported on four pillars; there is no scenery and very few props.Nō drama involves two main actors, the secondary wakiand the principal shite, who performs the ritual dances. Bothwear painted wooden masks and dress in magnificent silk costumes basedon ancient models. In addition to the principals, there are about10 members of the chorus, four musicians, and two assistants, whoappear on stage during the action but are regarded as invisible byboth audience and actors.
Originally, programmes of Nō always containedfive types of play: the kamimono praising the deities, theshuramono concerning warriors, the kazuramono aboutwomen, the kuruimono involving insane persons or spirits, andthe kirinomono about demons and other supernatural beings.Since World War II, however, programmes usually consist of only twoor three main plays. With the Kyōgen interludes a performancecan still last for up to seven hours.
In the 20th century several prominent Western playwrightshave been influenced by the Nō drama, most notably W.B. Yeats who, after 1916, made great use of masks, music,dancing, and chanting in his works.