Atsuyoshi Asano, who will be a GC visiting international artist this year, will perform in "Izutsu."

Georgetown, KY – Yes, Central Kentucky is in for a Noh performance the likes of which are rarely seen in the Western world.

Dr. Michael Rich, who’s been on sabbatical in Japan taking lessons in Noh singing, dancing and drumming, is adding professional Noh musicians (flute, shoulder drum, hip drum) for this free, public event at 7 p.m., August 30 in John L. Hill Chapel. “I would guess that this is the first professional Noh performance by a FULL troupe of professional Noh actors in Kentucky’s history,” said Rich, a Georgetown College Associate Professor of Japanese.

The evening will also introduce Atsuyoshi Asano, who comes from one of Japan’s oldest Noh families (going back 17 generations). During his year-long residency at Georgetown College, Asano will teach Noh Mask Carving (ART 170) and Noh Performance (JPN 370). In 2010-11, he was a visiting international artist in residence in the University of Kentucky Department of Theatre.

Noh is a form of musical theatre that originated in and around Kyoto, Japan in the late 14th Century A.D. Actors perform stories adapted from Japan’s classical literature and myths.

According to Rich, “For people familiar with Noh, this evening will present two very different types of performances – a fast and active warrior play (“Tamura”), and an elegant and meditative play (“Izutsu”) about a beautiful woman who lived during Japan’s most brilliant cultural period – the Heian era (9-12 centuries A.D.)”

Rich, who has brought three smaller Noh productions to campus since 2007, hopes the audience experiences this performance in the same way they might enjoy an opera or ballet. “Simple enjoyment at the beauty of the exquisite handmade costumes of embroidered silk and hand carved masks, the power of the music and intense concentration of the performers,” he said. “I also hope the audience gains a sense of how physically and mentally demanding it is to perform Noh.”

Michael Rich

He added, “Ideally the audience will also gain a sense of why Japan reveres Noh theatre and why it is the world’s oldest continuously performed theatre (dating from the late 14th century), and why it was designated by UNESCO in its first proclamation of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2001. The audience may also perceive Noh’s influence on popular Japanese culture and film, kabuki, anime and manga.”

While on sabbatical in Omihachiman City (Shiga Prefecture, about 30 minutes east of Kyoto) on the shores of Lake Biwa, Rich also weekly performances of Noh in Kyoto, practice kendo (Japanese fencing) and Kyudo (Japanese archery). 

“I have learned a lot of new moves, but I guess the most dramatic one is called ‘tobikaeri’ in which I jump up and spin around in the air and land on my knees on the stage,” he said. “It’s used for climactic moments in active plays about gods and warriors.”

Not only has he performed in Kyoto, Nara and Omihachiman, but his wife (Fumi) completed a course in Kyoto on how to wear a kimono (“pretty complicated actually” ) and their young daughters attended a local school and made “great strides in speaking, reading and writing Japanese.”