Revisiting Sumidagawa: In conversation with Sano Noboru and Dr Alan Cummings
Sumidagawa, written by Kanze Motomasa (c.1400 – 1432), the eldest son of Zeami Motokiyo (c. 1363 – c. 1443), stands as one of the most renowned Noh plays of all time. This masterpiece significantly influenced British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), who saw a performance of Sumidagawa twice during his stay in Japan in 1956. His encounter with the play led to the creation of Britten’s parable for church performance Curlew River, which premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1964.
The conversation between Sano Noboru, noh shite (pronounced 'she-tay') actor of the Hōshō School and Dr Alan Cummings of SOAS University of London delves into the details of this mesmerizing story, its literary finesse and performative aspects such as movement. Sano Noboru shares his personal thoughts about the play, and together with Dr. Cummings, examines the secret of Sumidagawa’s timeless popularity, relevance and artistic impact.
The event includes a short demonstration of utai (chanting), one of the signature characteristics of the Hōshō School, and an opportunity for audience members to ask questions.
The event is co-curated by Akiko Yanagisawa.
About the speakers and collaborators
Designated an ‘Important Intangible Cultural Asset’ by the Japanese government, Sano Noboru is a shite (pronounced she-tay) actor of the Hōshō School. After graduating from Tokyo University of the Arts, Sano Noboru pursued a career in performing Noh. He has performed in many important classical Noh plays including Okina, Shakkyō, Dōjō-ji, Midare and Sumidagawa.
In addition to acting, Sano Noboru is passionate about sharing his knowledge and passion for Noh with young audiences. Through school visits and workshops across Japan organized throughout the year, he educates and fosters appreciation for this classical theatre genre among younger generations. Sano's exceptional performances in the 3rd edition of ‘Noh Reimagined’ at Kings Place in 2022, when he performed Fuji and Kurozuka, received widespread acclaim. In June 2024, the Aldeburgh Festival, founded by Benjamin Britten, will celebrate its 75th anniversary as well as mark the 60th anniversary of the premiere of Britten’s Curlew River with a new production. Eminent Japanese Noh performers along with Noboru Sano will perform Sumidagawa as part of the Aldeburgh Festival and at Kings Place, London.
Dr. Alan Cummings
Dr. Alan Cummings is Head of Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Senior Lecturer in Japanese Studies at SOAS University of London. After obtaining a PhD in 19th-century kabuki, he has taught a range of courses including pre-modern Japanese language and literature, classical Japanese theatre and translation. His research focusses on Japanese classical theatrical forms including noh, bunraku, and kabuki.
Produced and curated by Akiko Yanagisawa (Mu:Arts), ‘Noh Reimagined’ isa series of projects and festivals exploring the 650-year-old Noh theatre tradition. ‘Noh Reimagined’ presents classical masterpieces by top Noh performers, along with ambitious cross-cultural commissioned works inspired by the art of Noh by both emerging andestablished British artists from diverse disciplines. In 2023 and 2024 Noh Reimagined is organised in partnership with The Place, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, The University of Sheffield, Kings Place, and Aldeburgh Festival (Britten Pears Arts).