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The meaning of «noh»

Noh (能, Nō, derived from the Sino-Japanese word for "skill" or "talent") is a major form of classical Japanese dance-drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Developed by Kan'ami and his son Zeami, it is the oldest major theatre art that is still regularly performed today.[1] Although the terms Noh and nōgaku are sometimes used interchangeably, nōgaku encompasses both Noh and kyōgen. Traditionally, a full nōgaku program includes five Noh plays with comedic kyōgen plays in between; an abbreviated program of two Noh plays with one kyōgen piece has become common today. Optionally, an okina play may be presented in the very beginning of nōgaku presentation.

Noh is often based on tales from traditional literature with a supernatural being transformed into human form as a hero narrating a story. Noh integrates masks, costumes and various props in a dance-based performance, requiring highly trained actors and musicians. Emotions are primarily conveyed by stylized conventional gestures while the iconic masks represent the roles such as ghosts, women, children, and the elderly. Written in late middle Japanese, the text "vividly describes the ordinary people of the twelfth to sixteenth centuries".[attribution needed][2] Having a strong emphasis on tradition rather than innovation, Noh is extremely codified and regulated by the iemoto system.

The kanji for Noh (能) means "skill", "craft", or "talent", particularly in the field of performing arts in this context. The word Noh may be used alone or with gaku (楽; fun, music) to form the word nōgaku. Noh is a classical tradition that is highly valued by many today. When used alone, Noh refers to the historical genre of theatre that originated from sarugaku in the mid 14th century and continues to be performed today.[3]

One of the oldest forerunners of Noh and kyōgen is sangaku [ja], which was introduced to Japan from China in the 8th century. At the time, the term sangaku referred to various types of performance featuring acrobats, song and dance as well as comic sketches. Its subsequent adaptation to Japanese society led to its assimilation of other traditional art forms."[2] Various performing art elements in sangaku as well as elements of dengaku (rural celebrations performed in connection with rice planting), sarugaku (popular entertainment including acrobatics, juggling, and pantomime), shirabyōshi (traditional dances performed by female dancers in the Imperial Court in the 12th century), gagaku (music and dance performed in the Imperial Court beginning in the 7th century), and kagura (ancient Shinto dances in folk tales) evolved into Noh and kyōgen.[1]

Studies on genealogy of the Noh actors in 14th century indicate they were members of families specialized in performing arts; they had performed various traditional performance arts for many generations. Sociological research by Yukio Hattori reveals that the Konparu School [ja], arguably the oldest school of Noh, is a descendant of Mimashi [ja], the performer who introduced gigaku, now-extinct masked drama-dance performance, into Japan from Kudara Kingdom in 612.[3]

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