Oberlin Hosts Acclaimed Noh Japanese Theater Performers

September 19, 2019

Amanda Nagy

Picture of dancer in costume.
Hisa Uzawa in full costume on a Noh theater stage.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Hisa and Hikaru Uzawa

A mother and daughter practitioner of one of the world’s oldest living theater forms will perform three sold-out shows in the Irene and Alan Wurtzel Theater and visit with classes when they come to campus September 22-24. 

Hisa and Hikaru Uzawa are the leading performers and teachers of Noh drama—the oldest surviving form of Japanese theater, with a legacy dating back to the 14th century. Noh combines music, movement, and acting to communicate messages about spirituality, ethical responsibility, and issues of life and death.

“The style will be new to many audience members because it is very unique and sometimes ghostly, yet the issues are identifiable,” says Professor of Japanese Ann Sherif, the main organizer of the Uzawas’ visit. “The stories are ancient, but it’s a living theater in touch with the modern world.”

Pioneering performers

Sherif has a long personal relationship with the Uzawas that stems from her time as a student taking intensive language training in Tokyo. 

“The Uzawas taught me a lot about Japanese culture and prepared me to be a better teacher of the language, culture, and people,” Sherif says. 

Although Noh has traditionally been a male-dominated profession, the Uzawas are pioneers and leaders of a new generation of women actors who are recognized by the Noh establishment. Hisa Uzawa has been designated a cultural treasure by the Japanese government. Her eldest daughter Hikaru followed in her mother’s footsteps by making her first stage performance at age three.  

This is not their first time in Oberlin. Sherif says the Uzawas performed here about 10 years ago in Warner Main Space. This time, the campus has the fortune of hosting their performance in the Wurtzel Theater, for which the theater department custom built a traditional Noh stage with a polished wood floor and four pillars. 

Workshops and class visits

The Uzawas will guest lecture two East Asian studies classes that Sherif designed for their visit: “Japan on Stage” and a First-Year Seminar, “Japan’s Performing Arts.” The pair has also planned to give two workshops open to the entire campus community: one focused on Noh movement, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Monday, September 23 in Warner Main Space, and a second teaching Noh chanting, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, September 25, in Stull Hall.

Performances will be 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, September 22, and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 24 in the Wurtzel Theater. All three shows are sold out, but there will be a waitlist at the door of the Wurtzel Theater an hour prior to the scheduled showtime.  

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