Yoshi Oida

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Performing Arts (noh-theatre)
Asia, Eastern
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July 23, 2003
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Yoshi Oida
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Japanese Kho-dance meets the West

The Japanese actor, director and teacher, Yoshi Oida, has created his own acting style, after years of performance with the theatre icon Peter Brook. As part of Brook`s International Theatre Group, Yoshi Oida performed on various stages all over the world. Several years ago he began directing plays himself using a unique combination of Eastern and Western approaches to theatre.
Yoshi Oida is a fascinationg artist, who seeks the truth through his art. Besides he bridges Eastern and Western techniques to a sublime mixture.

As a Japanese actor and director who has worked mainly in the West as a member of Peter Brook´s theatre company in Paris, he blends the oriental tradition of supreme and studied control with the Western performer´s need to characterise and expose depths of emotion.

In the practical and captivating study of the actor´s art written with Lorna Marshall, Yoshi Oida explains that once the audience becomes openly aware of the actor´s method and becomes too conscious of the actor´s artistry, the wonder of performance dies. The audience must never see the actor but only his or her performance. Throughout Lorna Marshall provides a running commentary on Yoshi OIda´s work and methods which help you understand the achievement of this singular theatrical artist.

Peter Brook wrote about ´The invisible Actor´:

"Yoshi Oida shows how the mysteries and secrets of performance are inseparable from a precise, concrete and detailed science learned in the heat of experience. The vital lessons he passes on to us are told with such lightness and grace that typically the difficulties become invisible."

For more than thirty years, the Japanese actor, Yoshi Oida, has regularly brilliantly collaborated with Peter Brook, the "magician of the European theatre".

Oida, trained from an early age in the traditional No-theatre´s classical kyogen style of acting by Okura-San, one of Japan´s greatest masters of the art, had sought a way to break out of the "fossilised" form of Japanese theatre after concluding his training as an actor. In Peter Brook, whom he met in Paris at an experiment for the Theatre of Nations in 1968, he found a "master" under whose guidance he was able to develop an entirely new direction in his acting.

The artistic path he took - from Japan to Europe - was not easy for Oida. Trained to perfection through his kyogen education to perfectly reproduce katas (short tales which have been related for over 700 years in the same way, with strictly prescribed movements, stylised chants and formalised facial gestures), it was incredibly difficult for him to come to terms with Brook´s free improvisations.

How, after years of perfectly reproducing prescribe formulae, was he suddenly to develop his OWN ideas? While the reaction of the other actors in Brook´s company to a subject like, "First you are the wind, the wind gets stronger, a fire ignites, the flames blaze up...", was to crawl across the floor, twisting and turning and screaming out loud, Oida´s primary response was one of bewilderment.

In No he had learned that what changes is the inside of a thing, not its external appearance. So in his improvisations, he just concentrated on the wind, fire and flames, remaining motionless in the lotus position. His colleagues were fascinated.
Peter Brook also immediately saw Oida´s value for his own work; he felt the power inherent in this expressive physical control and in his concentrated presence on stage.

On all the many study trips which he undertook with his different theatre companies across Africa, through the Middle East, India, Australia and North America, in order to extend and develop his knowledge of theatre, Peter Brook was always accompanied by Oida. In the inspiring atmosphere created by Brook in his constant search for new forms, it was not long before Oida was giving almost virtuoso performances no matter what the type of theatre: in Western spoken drama, in the rougher, traditional theatre of Africa, in ritual Indian theatre and in the sacred dramas of Persia.

Of all the research and exchange of artistic ideas with other cultures, what interested and moved Oida the most, however, were the songs and dances which expressed the spiritual traditions of the people - the songs and dances relating to the Sufi tradition, to Tibetan Buddhism and to religious rituals in Africa. They not only served to delight the spectators, but also to bring about the experience of a spiritual transformation in the perfor-mers.

This reminded him of what he had come to know in Japan as gyoho, or religious exercises. After deciding to remain in Paris with Peter Brook, Oida had for the first time developed an interest in his own, Japanese culture. He regularly returned to Japan for short stays, where he worked with all kinds of "specialists" from a wide range of schools: with yoga and Bujutsu masters, just as with Shinto priests, Buddhist monks and Japanese avant-garde musicians. He learnt mudras and mantras by heart, and even took a three-month period of training as a priest at a Shinto monastery to learn the secret rituals of the Shinto religion.

"In Japan," says Oida, "there have always been strong links between religion, the arts and the traditional martial arts (Bujutsu). These links are not only spiritual, they also affect the practice. Religious exercises - those of Shintoism as well as those of Buddhism (mudras, mantras, purification rituals, meditation, etc.) - are similar to the exercises that are described as the "path" of the martial arts. In each case, it is about finding an awareness of truth through physical rather than intellectual means. Traditionally, physical experience is given preference over a purely rational awareness as a means of gaining knowledge."

This synthesis of an Eastern and a Western view of life, the arts and theatre, the ability to create something quite unique, both in human and artistic terms, from two structurally opposed philosophical concepts, is something Oida has been eminently successful in achieving.
It is fascinating to watch Oida work with other actors, either as an actor or as a teacher, and experience him moving on the theatre stage and through the theatre of life with unpretentious precision and an impressive presence.

It is exciting to get to know an Oida who, as a pupil of two undisputed masters of their art - Okura-san in kyogen and Peter Brook, the magician of a brilliant Western theatre which has perfected the art of simplicity - now goes his own way: as actor-director in his one-man performance, "Interrogation", and as a guest director of Japanese and European plays at various theatres in Germany, The Netherlands and France.

The documentary film ´Have You Seen the Moon" portrays Yoshi Oida, now living in France. This documentary deals with Oida`s struggle with different views of art and theatre in the West and in the East. It shows the different roles played in them by people and performers, which ultimately leads to different questions being asked and answers being found in each of the cultures.
Author: Karin Bergquist


Trained from early childhood in the traditional kyogen acting style of the Japanese No-theatre, he has now been working brilliantly for almost thirty years with the "Magician of the European Theatre", Peter Brook, in his Centre Internationale de Création Théâtrale in Paris.


Autumn Dream

Production / Performance,
Directed by Yoshi Oida


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Images of Asia

(08 August 03 - 26 September 03)


Oida´s offical homepage