Performative Gestures
and the Performance of 
Takemitsu's 'Equinox for guitar'

by Fabricio Mattos

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  1. A History of the Performing Stage

 I will now briefly explore the history of the performing stage in both European and Japanese cultures to the present days, based on Greek and Japanese Dramas and their further developments. Even though Drama in Europe and Japan developed in different time frames, I will explore them in direct relation to each other, providing similarities and contrasts released from the time constraint.

For this reason, I have created a different format of presentation (or a 'literary stretch'!) for which  the following graphic solution will be used:

This font format relates to both Greek/Roman and Japanese.

This one relates to Greek/Roman only.

And this one relates to Japanese only.

Physical and mental stages were indispensable reflections of ancient societies.

Greek drama had its origins in the cult of the god Dionysus. Until the 6th century BC

The origins of Japanese drama were strongly influenced by the Chinese. Around the 5th century AD

regular performances were realized with ritualistic character,

with chorus singing hymns (or dithyrambs) in honour to Dionysus,

and these rituals evolved to processions which featured main characters wearing masks,

and when indigenous tribes inhabited Japan, external influences as well as local beliefs converged into a series of myths and practices of shamanistic rituals,

attempting to experience different dimensions inhabited by gods.

It is believed that around 530 BC a wandering bard called Thespis began to recite poetry as one of the characters he was representing, and this is accepted as

The 8th-century book of Kojiki includes the myth of Ame-no Uzume-no-mikoto’s dance enticing the goddess Amaterasu out of a cave, which is considered by many as

not only a ritual, but the first artistic performance in that country.

Initially, theatrical events were epic poems, which developed into more detailed events that later took the form of tragedies, satyrs, and comedies. Even after many years of development of Greek drama, the

Uzume is believed to have been a miko, a female shaman who performed ecstatic and erotic dances. During the many years of development of these shamanistic practices, the

sense of magic was always present;

the traditional place of the altar in the middle of the main structure, the orchestra, was

an important concept found in Japanese drama, the kamigakari, was

frequently used,

and a sacrifice of a goat preceded the beginning of plays.  Actors and Rhetoricians praised physical motion as essential to the conveyance of the author's intentions during the plays. In fact, what was visible, tangible, and philosophically engaging was praised as superior, which is also the reason why singing was preferred over purely instrumental music. Drama in Greece was a consequence and a symbol of the successes of democracy, as people were present in the audience and represented in the orchestra, particularly during festivals in Athens and other important cities. With the defeat of Greek Empire to Rome in 146 BC, Romans absorbed much of Greek culture and adapted it to Roman needs, which

which meant the possession of the performer by gods who could find expression through him. Noh and Kabuki actors’ representation of ghosts who speak of their magnificent deeds kept the same basic conception of kamigakari. Kabuki plays also often featured otherworldly settings, maintaining the essence of kamigakari in a different social and political situation. With Yamato rulers bringing a higher monarchical organization, the local tribes were required to perform in the court in honour of the Emperor, and the performances lost part of their initial magic character.  With the increasing monarchic power and social changes over the following centuries, Drama was gradually adapted to higher forms of entertainment such as the gigaku, which

often required changes in the use and structure of theatres.

Structurally, the stage as we know it in Western theatres and concert halls is a heritage of changes that occurred in Greek and Roman arenas. The Greek theatre did not have an equivalent of what we now know as a stage, at least with such a central role.

Noh stage brings in its structure some features of the ancient kagura performance areas, which evolved in many ways over the centuries. In Noh theatre the stage area is still considered as a sacred space where gods become visible.

Roughly speaking, its visible structure was formed by

orchestra, skene, and theatron. In the orchestra, initially a central circular space, the chorus of masked male actors assumed the roles of narrators, singers, and dancers; it was an essential part of the development of the storyline, and has not been considerably modified until the Romans took over. In the skene (which gave origin to what we now know as a scene) the main roles appeared, representing gods and heroes, and usually each actor could embody more than one character. The theatron, which means 'watching place', was the place for the audience, which could reach as many as twenty thousand people in Athens' golden age. Later on, Romans modified Greek structures, making the skene larger and higher and the orchestra smaller (semi circle instead of full circle). Romans also closed the theatre to outside view, creating the indoor space that evolved to be what we today regard as the Western style theatres.

hashigakari, kagamiita, ato-za and waki-za. The hashigakari is the side-corridor leading to the stage, in which the gods are first seen by the audience; it is the most important structural feature of Noh, as it contributes to the mysterious and highly ritualistic character of the plays. The kagamiita (a permanent wall painted with the figure of a pine tree) is the most typical and strikingly traditional aspect of the Noh stage, as it is a direct reference to the ancient performances that happened outdoors. The ato-za and waki-za are respectively the rear and the side of the stage, where the musicians remain during the performances. In 16th century Kabuki was born, and some time later Kabuki theatres started to be built adapted from the old Noh structure (modifying the hashigakari, ato-za, and waki-za). The stage area has been enlarged and eventually supported a revolving stage,  which allowed the spectacular special effects of Kabuki plays; the hashigakari was re-angled and re-dimensioned, being renamed hanamichi.

Many years later, with the necessity of entertaining larger audiences, the watching space became larger 

and was supported by all sorts of technological apparatus.

With the passing of centuries Western countries, after numerous political and social upheavals, began to attribute other social and political roles to art, and

In 1868, after centuries of isolation and following the increasing need for modernization and progress, Japan opened its borders to Western 

way of life and culture;

that invariably changed the way in which performing arts were produced.

Following the end of Roman Empire the structure of Western theatres remained basically the same, with minor modifications, continuing to house major socially relevant artistic events. Artists such as Shakespeare, Stravinsky, John Cage, and Nijinsky went beyond what was usual and acceptable thus creating, changing, and stretching concepts such as opera, plays, and ballets.

With the outbreak of World War II Japan was again isolated from the West and, following its defeat, the Japanese traditional arts have been ignored by the most prominent artists. Years later Japanese artists such as Toru Takemitsu were again attracted by the traditional arts of their country, often driven by Western artistic concepts that could be adapted, explained, or even contradicted by their traditions.

Other levels of significance began to be attributed to the stage in 20th and 21st centuries, 

now extending its importance into politics and science.

However, stages kept their essential role in contemporary rituals through celebrations of different gods or no gods at all, 


Physical and mental stages are still indispensable reflections of our society.

Pictures of Greek/Roman and Japanese Theatres

Greek stage. Schematic view. [1]

Greek stage. Audience view. [2]

Roman stage. Schematic view. [3]

                                                                                                      Roman stage. Audience view. [4]

Noh stage. Schematic view. [5]

Noh stage. Audience view. [6]

Kabuki stage. Schematic view. [7]

Kabuki stage. Audience view. [8]

This website is meant for academic and general use

Any part of it may be reproduced provided the author is properly acknowledged. 

[1]  Source: Accessed on 19/09/2013.

[2]  Source: Accessed on 19/09/2013.

[3]  Source: Accessed on 19/09/2013.

[4]  Source: Accessed on 19/09/2013.

[5]  Source: Toshio, K. Kabuki. The International House of Japan, 2003. p. 57.

[6]  Source: . Accessed on 20/09.2013.

[7]  Source: Toshio, K. Kabuki. The International House of Japan, 2003. p. 57.

[8]  Source: Accessed on 20/09/2013.