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Waseda Culture and Arts Week 2012 Participating Project
Theatre Project Si New Modern Noh Production "The Dreaming of the Bones"

Masaru Sekine
Professor at the Faculty of International Liberal Studies, Waseda University (Performing Arts), Noh actor at the Kanze school, master

From October 17 to November 1, Waseda University will hold various events as part of its "Waseda Culture and Arts Week 2012." As one of the participating projects, the new modern Noh production "The Dreaming of the Bones" will be staged at the Okuma Auditorium with a star-studded cast on October 17.

This work is created and performed by the experimental theater project "Theatre Project Si," and Masaru Sekine, also a professor at Waseda University, steps out of the framework of classical Noh in this modern and epochal production using shakuhachi (flute) and koto instead of traditional Noh musical accompaniments.


The terrain of Ireland and Japan are similar. While these two countries are small countries located on opposite sides of the continent, they are both abundant in culture. These two cultures were first linked at the start of the 20th century by Ernest Fenollosa, who was employed by the Meiji government immediately after the Meiji Restoration. Fenollosa started the movement for the establishment of Tokyo Art School and made a huge contribution in the revival of Japanese art, and learnt Noh from Kanze school master Minoru Umewaka during his time in Japan. After returning from his third visit to Japan, he died in despair while staying in London on his way back to the States. Fenollosa's second wife Mary handed his handwritten Noh translations to fellow American Ezra Pound for publication. This caught the eye of Irish Nobel Prize winning poet W.B. Yeats. Yeats, along with Lady Gregory, had just set up the National Theatre of Ireland, the Abbey Theartre, and was searching for true Irish plays. After that, Yeats held a strong interest in Noh, and wrote Four Plays for Dancers under the influence of Noh. This new modern Noh production is a translation and adaption of one of those, The Dreaming of the Bones. Sekine has moved the set to Japan and translated it in the form of Noh.

Original version

W.B. Yeats' s The Dreaming of the Bones is a play based on the Irish legend and the history of Ireland and England. The couple, Diarmuid and Dervorgilla, betrayed their country for illicit love, and brought the English army to Ireland. Ireland was put under the rule of Britain for 700 years. Yeats made the ghosts of this cursed couple the main characters, and the two continue to beg for forgiveness from the Irish people while wandering around Ireland for 700 years. If just a single Irish person says 'I forgive you,' the two souls will be saved. In Ireland at Easter in 1916, Irish Nationalist rebels took hostages in the central post office in Dublin and demanded independence from Britain. This armed rising was soon suppressed by English troops and the leaders were executed. Yeats made Young Man, the supporting role, who fled the post office for his life immediately after the rising. The two ghosts led the youth to the safety of the Connemara Mountains and begged him for forgiveness there. Like the travelling priests who save wandering souls in Noh plays, if the youth give his forgiveness, the souls of the two illicit lovers could be saved. The young girl, Dervorgilla, appears to persuade him for forgiveness, but the youth can't forgive the two who caused the current occupation by Britain and flatly refuses. The first performance at the Abbey was in 1931, 14 years since it was written. It is a powerful play with a dramatic atmosphere and a high tension. But, because of the political message, it is not performed often these days.

King Lear

Romeo and Juliet

Background of the adaptation

In creating The Dreaming of the Bones, Sekine first took the historical situation of Japan into consideration, and by likening the Ryukyu Kingdom to Ireland. In 1609, the feudal lord, Shimazu sent soldiers to Ryukyu, took control, and ruled the kingdom for the next 250 years. Sekine employed these historical facts in his adaption. While different from the historical facts, in order to keep with the original work by Yeats, there were no illicit relationships in Ryukyu, so Sekine introduced male and female characters from the Ryukyu dynasty who were washed ashore in Shimazu (present day Kagoshima) in place of Diarmuid and Dervorgilla. Yeats' work was set after 700 years of continuous rule by the English, while his piece takes place 200 later in 1810. However, as there was no large scale rising for independence in the Ryukyu dynasty, Sekine made the supporting role of a courtier from the Ryukyu Court who was sent to Shimazu. In order to keep the content of the play close to Yeats' original, his adaption greatly deviates from the historical facts.

Composition of the adaption

The stage work was achieved by directly using the experimental results of Theatre project Si that took place from 2008 to 2010, the core of the experiments was the fusion of cultures of East and West. As it is a Noh adaption, Sekine requested a leading Kanze school Noh actor, Jiichi Asami to play the role of the main protagonist. He then appointed the distinguished Nikikai soprano, Fumiko Kamahara as his companion, and a Nikikai bass-baritone, Shigeru Hatakeyama to play the supporting role. Also, by commissioning Tadashige Zenchiku to perform Ai-Kyogen, Sekine has maintained a balance of both Noh and opera. For musical accompaniment, Sekine has brought in Shoji Aoki to play the shakuhachi and Maiko Aoki to play the koto. Noh musical accompaniment is suitable to bring out a tense atmosphere on stage, but it is nearly impossible to add emotions. Compared with that, the shakuhachi has deep expressions of emotion, and the koto has freedom in the range of sounds, and furthermore, by playing strong sounds, it can enhance the tension on stage. The performance and Noh chanting by the lead character with two opera singers with the accompaniment of the shakuhachi and koto in the background, brilliantly combine opera and Noh on stage. The Ai-Kyogen comes in the interval between the first and second Acts, and narrates in a spoken language to describe what occurred in the first half of the performance. This is almost an independent scene. It is performed by the prominent Kobe Kyogen performer, Tadashige Zenchiku. The second half contains two soprano arias, unheard of in Noh. Notable scenes are where the two main characters painfully try to persuade others and the aria sung by the main characters companion. The first arias fills the stage with beautiful and rich emotions of love, the second aria expresses heartrending desperation, drastically raising the tension on the stage.


The first half opens with a supporting role, a messenger from the Ryukyu dynasty, Koun Oshiro, setting the stage in Noh fashion. After giving his name, Koun Oshiro declares, "Because Ryukyu has been ruled by the Shimazu clan for the past 200 years since the Ryukyu dynasty was betrayed by a man and a woman, he is on his way to Shimazu to bring a message from the Ryukyu king to Shimazu. After singing a lyric describing his travels, Koun Oshiro tells of his arrival at Ibusuki in Shimazu. There, a local elderly couple appears and Koun Oshiro inquires about local historic sites and legends. The elderly couple tells in detail of how the Shimazu clan came to run Ryukyu and of the two lovers who betrayed the islands. They are closely questioned by Koun Oshiro, and the elderly couple acknowledges that they are actually the spirits of the lovers who fled from Ryukyu. The two beg for Koun Oshiro to pray for them and disappear.

In the Ai-Kyogen, the performer, dressed as a villager, appears and tells the story of the lovers who fled the Ryukyu dynasty to Koun Oshiro in a simple yet detailed manner. He then requests him to give a service for their souls and leaves.

In the second half, Koun Oshiro remains in that spot, and when looking at the night-time sea a small boat glides in and the young couple pull the boat ashore. Koun Oshiro calls out to the two, and the two tell him that they have just been washed ashore after a long voyage from Ryukyu. When Koun Oshiro continues to question them, the lovers tell the circumstances of how they were driven out of Ryukyu and washed ashore in Ibusuki. The two came together, when the princess was sent to a young vassal, who was injured while trying to save the king who was attacked by a large stag while hunting. The king sent his loving mistress to thank this young vessel and to take care of him. They fell in love with each other and their affair became widely known throughout the court. So the couple could no longer remain in Ryukyu, and got into a small boat and rowed off into the ocean. Carried by the Kuroshio Current, they arrived in Ibusuki after the two sailed for three days and three nights. The man led the Shimazu's army which tried to bring Ryukyu under its control, and helped Shimazu suppress Ryukyu. The man was consequently awarded land in Ibusuki for his services. From this time on, the couple began to feel guilty for their deeds. The two soon died, and as a result of their betrayal, their spirits have remained as ghosts roaming around the land of Ibusuki. The souls of the two lovers still cannot rest in peace, even to this day 200 years later, but if even one person from Ryukyu offers forgiveness they can enter the next world. So they appeal to Koun Oshiro for his forgiveness. Koun Oshiro seemed willing to forgive them but says he cannot offer forgiveness while Ryukyu remains under Shimazu rule and condemns the pair. The two ghosts keep their distance and dance away.

Aim of the stage production

The aim of this production is to create, on the stage, the 'flower=beauty' advocated by Zeami, in this new modern Noh production The Dreaming of the Bones. The concept of Zeami's beauty is influenced by pessism due to fatalist theory, and isn't a healthy and bright beauty. Using 'asagiri ni nureta magaki (met flowering hedge in the morning mist)' and 'Urei wo obita Youkihi (a legendary Chinese beauty with a touch of sorrow)' as examples, Zeami saw beauty in depicting tragic characters extolled with a touch of sadness. This 'flower' in The Dreaming of the Bones is expressed immediately after Koun Oshiro refuses the advances of the two ghosts, and the two ghosts, without being united, sadly dance away together over the bridge and disappear.



Waseda Culture and Arts Week 2012 Participating Project

Theatre Project Si New Modern Noh Production "The Dreaming of the Bones"

October 17, 2012 (Wed) 18:00 - 19:50 (doors open 17:30)
Waseda University Okuma Memorial Auditorium (Large Auditorium)
Original work:
W.B. Yeats Adaption・Producer: Masaru Sekine
Entry free of charge・All seats nonreserved・preschoolers unable to attend
Jiichi Asami, Fumiko Kamahara, Shigeru Hatakeyama, Tadashige Zenchiku, Shoji Aoki, Maiko Aoki
18:00 - 18:15 Commentary (Masaru Sekine)
18:15 - 19:50 Performance "The Dreaming of the Bones"
Masaru Sekine Tel: 03-5286-1261
Email:art-culture@list.waseda.jp(Waseda University Cultural Affairs Division)
Waseda University Faculty of International Research&Education
Supported by Waseda University Cultural Affairs Division

Jiichi Asami

Fumiko Kamahara

※Details of Waseda Culture and Arts Week 2012 (October 17 - November 1) will can be found on leaflets posted around campus or the "Waseda Culture" homepage from late September.

Masaru Sekine
Professor at the Faculty of International Liberal Studies, Waseda University (Performing Arts), Noh actor at the Kanze school, master

Born in May 1945. After completing his doctorate at Waseda University, he went to graduate school in England as a British Council Scholar. Became a Kanze school Noh actor and master in 2011. Sang at the concert, "Pipe Organ and Noh" with Jean Guillou in Paris and Japan, 2003-2005. Director of the Rome Kyogen Troupe and toured Japan in 2004 and 2005. Adapted and presented an adaption of the Italian comedy Bilora at the "Japan-Italy Comedy Festival" in 2007. Started up Theatre Project Si , an experiment of fusing cultures from East and West on stage in 2008 and adapted and directed the productions of Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Falstaff, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth , all of which were shown at the major cities of Japan. Author of Ze-Ami and His Theories of Noh Drama (1985) and Yeats and Noh---A Comparative Study (1990).