Traditional Japanese Noh theatre can be slow and boring, concedes Colleen Lanki, a local expert in the form.
The classical style that has been performed since the 14th century can be incomprehensible, "like listening to [the old language in] Beowulf," says Lanki, who lived in Tokyo for six years.
But done well, Noh theatre can be intense and "mesmerizing in every sense of the word," she says.
Lanki has directed a new chamber opera, Shadow Catch, which Dec. 2 to 4 at the Firehall Arts Centre. She's keen to see how audiences react to the mix of Vancouver history, contemporary music written by four different composers and Japanese Noh-influenced theatre.
Benton Roark, president of Vancouver Pro Musica, which presents Shadow Catch as part of its Further East/Further West series, called upon Lanki's Japanese theatre expertise for this endeavour. Celebrated poet and novelist Daphne Marlatt wrote original text for Shadow Catch, which weaves together four stories from the Downtown Eastside. Marlatt penned one other Noh production at few years back, The Gull presented by Pangaea Arts.
Shadow Catch is set steps away from the Firehall, in Oppenheimer Park. It focuses on a young runaway who's new to Vancouver. Four spirits appear to him in his dreams and recount aspects of the pre-war period of the Powell Street neighbourhood, beginning with K'emk'emelay, the grove of giant maple trees cleared for Stamp's Mill in the 1860s. Further acts include the ghost of a Japanese-Canadian ballplayer from the famous Asahi baseball team, a 1920s-era Hastings Street madam and a demon-figure ex-cop who's wrestling with memories of corruption during the labour riots of the 1930s. Each spirit corresponds to a different type of Noh play: a god play, warrior play, woman play and demon play. Elements of Japanese Noh can be detected in the scoring, movement, libretto and chant-style singing.
Lanki says Noh is a wonderful form for unravelling memories and emotional stories. A typical structure sees the central character or shite (pronounced sh'tay) encountering secondary characters, or waki, often a ghost of a warrior or the spirit of a flower or a tree that hails from another time and provides a window to the past.
Roark, Dorothy Chang, Jennifer Butler and Farshid Samandari composed four different scores for Shadow Catch for the ensemble of flute, cello, percussion and five singers.
Lanki can't wait to see how audiences respond to the mix of east, west, old and new. "It's a crazy mix of elements," she said.
Shadow Catch runs at 8 p.m. Dec. 2 and 3, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, at 280 East Cordova St. For more information, see firehal-lartscentre.ca.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi