Just back from Shanghai, it was part dream journey (臥遊) and part time travel (タイムスリップ)-- → like this.
It was also a trip down memory lane.
On the plane on the way over, I sat next to a Lady from the Kingdom of Shu (蜀國). The women of Shu have always been renown for their beauty, and she was no different with her flawless pale skin (like moonlight), beautiful eyes and feather robes of exqusite shu brocade (蜀锦).
Her name was Hagoromo.
And, Hagoromo never stopped talking (and it was a 14 hour flight!) Luckily, women from the city of angels can also be quite chatty...
Named after her feather robe (羽衣), the noh play, Hagoromo, is thought to be one of the earliest noh plays. The story of a moon goddess descended to earth; a fisherman comes across her exquisite feather robe hanging from a pinetree (maybe she was bathing in the sea?). So entranced by the robe is he that he seeks to take it home with him. Before he can get very far, however, the beautiful goddess appears before him and tells him that without her robe, she cannot return to heaven. The fisherman is, of course, swayed by her obvious agitation and agrees to return it-- if only she will dance for him. She agrees, but then the man begins to waiver. Won't she ignore her part of the bargain as soon as she gets her feather robe back...?
But she tells him: “Doubt is for mortals. In heaven, there is no deceit.”
Ezra Pound was also fascinated by Hagoromo, the moon goddess. He wrote his version of the play after the great Orientalist Ernest Fenollosa's widow had provided him with a translation. William Butler Yeats then wrote the introduction. Pound produced the play in 1916, but would re-visit it again many years later when he was jailed in Pisa. Imprisoned for treason, he was only allowed access to a few books in his cell. And this play of his own creation was one of them. He would write in his Pisan Cantos:
and the nymph of the Hagoromo came to me, as a corona of angels one day were clouds banked on Taishan or in glory of sunset and tovarish blessed without
He was a crackpot and poet to the dictator and yet one can only marvel at the incredible number of allusions--from Homer to Zeami-- in the Pisan cantos; seemingly all dredged up from memory, with notes scribbled on toilet paper!
Was it cultural theft or cultural exchange?
Scholars will argue but for me, I somehow understand his life-long fascination and appropriation of Hagoromo (among a million other images and imaginings in which he would delight). As one of the earliest plays in the noh theater repertoire, this play illuminates the relation noh had to the God dance. In this way, noh theater has always reminded me of the spiritually transportive qualities of Javanese dance--especially the story of Hagoromo. This feeling is also part, I suppose, of my own personal narrative as it was Javanese dance that was the start of my story; a story that began in Java and ending in Tokyo was then told last week in Shanghai. Like I said, it was a walk down memory lane.
Anyway, by chance, I stumbled upon this amazing youtube video (below) of Rick Emmert (whom I am a huge fan) performing Hagoromo to Javanese gamelan with Javanese dancers. The collaborative dance is so unusual not just because of its Javanese-Japanese collaboration but also it is the Javanese dancers who wear the masks and Rick (the shite) is mask-less. The chanting is classical Javanese court style and yet... I would say it is the noh play that really creates the mood and atmosphere of this.
I only wish I could have been there.