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For the first time in Lebanon LAU holds Japanese Noh theater activities

Dr. Naohiko Umewaka, a well-known Noh master, led LAU events on this form of classical Japanese drama that has been performed since the 14th century.


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Noh master Dr. Naohiko Umewaka (right) teaching Noh dance techniques to Lebanese actors and performing arts students.


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A Lebanese actor during the performance of Umewaka's The Italian Restaurant at LAU.


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Umewaka explaining the Japanese Noh theater tradition in the Gulbenkian Theatre, Beirut campus.


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Umewaka teaching concentration techniques to the workshop participants.


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Workshop participants rehearsing for The Italian Restaurant, a play written and directed by Umewaka.


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Scene from The Italian Restaurant.

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When Dr. Naohiko Umewaka started talking about Noh theater, a form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century, the entire audience at LAU’s Gulbenkian Theatre was mesmerized.

Wearing his traditional kimono, the well-known Noh master demonstrated the techniques of the art form during a lecture, which was held on August 28 as part of the “Noh Theater at LAU” activities — the first of their kind in Lebanon — that took place on the Beirut campus in the end of August and beginning of September.

Umewaka said only male actors traditionally performed Noh plays — women were allowed to act only 80 years ago. He showed a traditional ritual Noh actors perform at the beginning of a performance when they salute the audience and their fellow performers. He explained traditional concentration exercises performers could use, and the specific way they should move around the stage. He also stressed the importance of showing pure — even exaggerated — emotions.

“His lecture was fantastic,” says Dr. Mona Knio, LAU associate professor of arts and communication. “He talked for two hours and then the students cornered him at the reception and asked questions for another two hours. It’s such a satisfaction to have him here,” she adds.

Besides the lecture/demo, Umewaka also led a Noh theater workshop that gathered around 20 professional actors and performing arts university students at LAU for eight days between August 29 and September 8.

During the workshop, the participants auditioned and rehearsed for Umewaka’s newest play, The Italian Restaurant, which was performed in Arabic on the Gulbenkian stage on September 8. It is a ghost story — as per Noh theater tradition — that takes place in a restaurant, Umewaka explains.

Noh theater “was so new to us,” Ahla Mawad, a professional actress who took part in the workshop, said during a rehearsal. “I had an idea about it from my theater history course in university and I have a passion to learn about any kind of theater. Now I am so fascinated that I can’t sleep at night and I write notes about what he had said to us during the day,” she added.

Umewaka says it is the first time he holds a workshop in Lebanon, although he has been married to a Lebanese for 26 years. “I know it is new to them [the participants], but most of them did very well,” he adds.

Umewaka started acting at the age of 3 and played his first main role six years later, following in the footsteps of his father, the late Naoyoshi Umewaka, who is considered a legendary Noh actor.

In 1995 Umewaka received a doctorate in drama from the University of London, where he now teaches as a visiting professor. He is also an associate professor in arts management at Shizuoka University of Art and Culture. Leader of the Umewaka Noh Theater Troupe, he has composed, choreographed and directed a number of new Noh plays.

The Noh activities at LAU were organized by LAU’s Department of Arts and Communication in collaboration with the Embassy of Japan in Lebanon and the Arab Theater Training Center.


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