[Interview 2019] Luca Moretti Founder and Representative of kyōgen 狂言 in Italy
First European and Italian to had a training by great masters of tradition, and having performed in Japanese theaters.
Luca has become the exponent n Italy, and not limited to that, of kyōgen 狂言, a comic form of traditional Japanese theater.
There are people who, despite coming from distant cultures, from miles away and different languages, they are passionate, they study, and want to understand more deeply an art, a discipline that has affected over them. Hard studies, practice, very complex and exhausting paths that lead to incredible results.
Luca Moretti has become one of the main exponents of kyōgen 狂言 in Italy, studying with great masters, performing in Japanese theaters with personalities of grat caliber and even living treasures like the master Zenchiku Jurō. Let's get to know Luca better and what kyōgen was in the past and today.
The Kyōgen emerged for the first time as an independent art during the period of the Warring States (1467-1568), when it start to appear on performance programs along with the nō 能 shows. Two types of kyōgen can be distinguished: hon-kyōgen and ai-kyōgen. Normally when we talk about "kyōgen" we refer to hon-kyōgen.
This theatrical art represents common situations connected to people using popular language to express it, but does it through complex, organized, structured and meticulously styled vocal movements and patterns. Generally two or three actors (or a single one) appear in the show and delight the audience through comic dialogues about the commoner, about his/her relationships, about his/her everyday life, a person free from the "restrictions" and "constraints" that Japanese society (in good or bad) imposes. For this reason kyōgen is often translated as "crazy talk".
From the show "by Code and Canini"
The characters of the kyōgen move in a historical context that can be placed in the Muromachi period 室町 (about 1333 - 1573), but what Luca did and is doing with his Italo Kyogen Project is to adapt the style, language and situations from a typically Japanese to an Italian or mixed.
Luca is a person with many passions, with ongoing projects and many others hat will soon see the light, so we leave you to his interview, enjoy it till the end. You'll know a very friendly, nice person that will drag you inside his passions. I'm sure some of you'll be very intrigued by this form of art, and maybe you could go deeper thanks to the words and information that Luca can provide.
MAURO: Hi Luca, nice to meet you, looking at your blog and the Facebook page, you see yourself involved in many projects, so thank you for accepting our invitation. Who is Luca, his story, tell us a little.
LUCA: I am Luca, and I am a 40-year-old Maremma (vast region between Lazio and Tuscany) that at same point in the life found himself in Japan, in kimono, reciting traditional Japanese comedy. Since I found myself really onfortable, I decided to continue this journey that led me to propose this form of theater in Italian, to make it as known as possible with my project, Italo Kyogen.
MAURO: Another Italian who as deeoly explored the Japanese culture, becoming a known exponent in the Japanese and international panorama. How t all started?
LUCA: Like the greatest loves, everything started by chance. One day, Professor Masaru Sekine of the Waseda University of Tokyo came to Rome to conduct a theatrical "experiment": o recite the kyōgen to Japanese-speaking students, and I was one of them. The success of the show was so overwhelming that it turned into a first tour in Japan and a second one, with another show, the following year. We achieved great success, supported by press and TV, we acted in prestigious theaters all over Japan, treading on stages until then closed to Westerners: people enjoyed themselves and even recognized us on the street! Consequently, my love for kyōgen and traditional comedy grew dramatically and I plunged into the academic tudies of the subject. In a sense, I was a pioneer specializing in kyōgen in Italy, but I didn't realize it well because I was completely absorbed in love for this form of theater!
MAURO:Reading your story you notice that you have ntered into contact with important figures of Japanese culture, even with one of the living treasures like Zenchiku Jurō. How these experiences happened?
LUCA: During the second tour in Japan, I came in contact with traditional kyōgen actors and thanks to a healthy Italian shamelessness, I expressed the wish to receive traditional training, but the most amazing thing was that they accepted! Now I would like to mention that the transmission of this theatrical form is exclusively oral, there are no "schools" where to enroll, everything is handed down in the family and rarely external people, and I always speak of Japanese, are accepted as 内弟 子, uchi deshi, apprentices. So you can imagine what honor was granted to me! The first teacher hat accepted the challenge was Zenchiku Tadashige from the Urakura school. With him I learned to laugh for the first time, according to the traditional kyōgen method, n order to understand each other! During traditional apprenticeship my commitments continued with Professor Sekine that, in the meanwhile, had raised the bar of difficulty, presenting experimental kyōgen works with opera singers, folk musicians and living national treasures including Zenchiku Jurō, cousin of Tadashige. I will never forget the availability of Master Jurō, ready to follow my progress everywhere, even in the dressing room, literally during the shows! In any case, I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to act on traditional stages along living national treasures and to have received similar training: very hard but priceless!
MAURO: You define yourself as Nipponist, actor, author and composer, so many professionalism, so many experiences. Which of these aims to follow more? Would you like to be more Nipponist, or more author and composer, or perhaps more actor?
LUCA: I never really raised the issue. For as I see it, are parts of me that interpenetrate quietly and sometimes flow nicely into one other creating hybrids that make the artistic product more innovative. For example: one of my biggest long-term projects is the creation of a musical where rock music, traditional Japanese music, kyōgen theater and science fiction can live together: my greatest passions!
MAURO:The Kyogen has well coded structures, movements, tones, jokes, as you describe on your blog "stages common human situations using popular language", but we speak of Japanese "common sense" and "popular language". How can it be adapted to a culture like the Italian one?
LUCA: Initially, the intentions of the first authors were obviously those of lay bare the "common human situations using the popular language" of the Japan of their times, but one of the most beautiful discoveries I made studying and practicing kyōgen was that the magic of kyōgen is precisely the possibility of extending these "common human situations" in time and space. The heart of the kyōgen is its universality. Those that stage the actors on stage are situations about Japan of the Muromachi period, but it could very well be situations that we live in Italy in 2019! The ability of kyōgen to expose human nature, is timeless and without space, is its great strength and one of the reasons that pushed me to adapt it in Italian. Throughout the adaptation process in Italian is possible read it in my short essay, published by the journal "Anthropology and Theater" of the University of Bologna, entitled The Italo Kyogen project and the process of defining its scenic language as a medium for an immersive experience in traditional Japanese comic theater. It is an academic publication but in essence the ore is that to convey the real fun that you experience during a kyōgen show - because we are still talking about a comedy shows - I tried to put myself in the shoes of the Japanese that attend a kyōgen. So combining my kyōgen knowledge with my language skills, I wanted to recreate this experience for the Italian public, using an Italian language that had the same characteristics as the Japanese used in kyōgen: the resulting language is a mixture of old or antique Italian with vulgarisms and dialectal influences. Practically the Brancaleone army in kimono.
MAURO: Among your activities you have a school that teaches this art, what other initiatives carry out? And your future projects?
LUCA:I love kyōgen and I try to convey this my love to my students and my audience. I was the first European to receive a similar training and this was my first, true-and-only theater school: my imprinting comes directly from the heart of kyōgen, from the heart of Japan, and I try to transmit it as pure as possible. The "Kyogen Course in Italian" that I activated this year in Rome was a wonderful experience that will surely continue over the years.
To my surprise, the course had a large turnout of Japanese and if an Italian hat recites kyōgen seems strange to you, think how it can be when he teaches Japanese art to the Japanese themselves! However, I continued on my way, transmitting the teachings as I received them, following the canonical teaching process. Japanese students were excited to learn kyōgen in Rome. On the other hand, Italian students hey were no less, approaching this form of oriental theater with curiosity and respect for the first time. Obviously we also had a lot of fun, because we must never forget that kyōgen is a comic theater! During the course, the students learned a 小 舞 komai, a small song-dance with the fan as the tradition of the Zenchiku family and we concluded the course by setting up a show which was quite successful. What i hear, registrations for next year, which will begin in September, include another wave of Japanese and I will be happy to pass on the heart of the kyōgen to the newcomers.
As for future projects, in the immediate future I am creating a kyōgen show inspired by the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, entirely funded by a crowdfunding campaign launched last year. If the union between modern themes and ancient theater it can be seen as a curious thing for an art that I have described as deeply traditional, it is important to know that in Japan the peaceful coexistence between tradition and modernity is the custom, just think of Kabuki works dedicated to anime like One Piece or Naruto staged by the same traditional actors, or the lesser known kyōgen inspired by Tezuka's manga. Another project that I really care about is the creation of a modern kyōgen by the writer Komatsu Sakyō, father of Japanese science fiction. "The Fox and the Alien", this is the title of this SF 狂言, kyōgen of science fiction, is a kyōgen f all respects, but deals with themes, dear to the author, such as ecology and the encounter with the different. To make this show, I have the good fortune to have full support from the "Komatsu Foundation", which manages the rights of the Master's works and which has been enthusiastic about my project, offering me full support in Japan. Finally, a project I'm working on is the production of a show in Japanese, staged together with Japanese actors, its 牙 「ｷ ﾂ ｷ」 KitsuKiba, the Japanese version of "Di Code and Canini", an original kyōgen of my own freely inspired to the story "Romantic History of Tails and Canines" by the Turin author Massimo Soumaré. It would be the first modern kyōgen made by a Westerner, and moreover inspired by a story by an Italian author. As you can imagine, I care a lot about this project and I'm trying hard to make it happen!
MAURO: From our chat, I realized that you are a nice, active, very positive person. But there ere moments when you thought "I won't be able to do this"? Or "I went too far"?
LUCA: Anyone who knows me knows that "this will not succeed in doing it" is the sentence I say most often! Simply because I am a very humble self-critical person who expects a lot from his work. However, after the initial and unfounded discouragement, I always pursue my goals with patience and tenacity. So my next sentence is "it's not the time, but sooner or later." Unfortunately, we are not experiencing a happy moment for art, and every artist knows that this is the time in which we must hold on and wait for the right moment to show a project to the public. For the second sentence instead, rather than thinking of it myself, I hear from my entourage "you went too far." I admit that I tend too often for granted that the public knows the traditional kyōgen as I know it, and therefore I tend to look for the little-known show rather than the most famous kyōgen. But in recent times, thanks also to the Kyogen course in Italian, I learned to control my propensity for innovations, for love of my students to whom I want to convey the tradition and therefore the canon of traditional kyōgen performances.
MAURO: In one of our previous interviews with Paolo Cotrone (the first Italian and European Natori) it turned out as the more you enter into Japanese culture, the more complex the path becomes. Looking back, your path as it was?
LUCA: I think it's a condition common to all specializations, not just Japanese. As a disciple of the Zenchiku family of the Urakura school, the biggest difficulty was having no external reference point except my teacher himself. No books, no videos, nothing, just his words and his movements. So certainly the biggest difficulty was the solitude and the lack of a confrontation with another person in my same conditions. In any case, the children and grandchildren of my teachers have always been of great help, treating me like one of the families and trying with all their means "as an oriental" to dispelling my doubts "as western."
MAURO: What is your relationship with the Japanese public and with the Japanese (that normally don't expect from a foreigner to master this art).
LUCA: I too, like Paolo Cotrone, would like to dispel this false myth. The Japanese respect and admire all the people who are committed to carrying out a Japanese art, whatever their nationality. In the specific of kyōgen, obviously the first reaction of the public, but also of the actors, it is wonder. For them, to see an Italian that is not only interested in kyōgen but that practices it and by all means seeks to divulge it at home is an extraordinary thing, commendable. Moreover, unlike other disciplines, the kyōgen also the "aggravating circumstance" of being above all the prerogative of a few families, therefore the wonder is exponential. Absurdly, it is the Italians that are more reluctant to accept that a foreigner can master this art. So the relationship with the Japanese is fantastic, both with the Zenchiku family that supports my initiatives with every means, and with the audience that have learned to know me thanks to the various television programs in Japan to which I participated, by the broadcaster Nihon Terebi to Asahi TV.
MAURO: Thanks for the time and for this interview, you introduced us a part of Japan that few know. I leave you some space for your thanks or to mention someone you love.
LUCA:Thank you for the space given to me. I would like to thank all those who supported the project in these first years of activity, including the writer Massimo Soumaré who supports me from first day, the Nippop and Zero in Condotta associations that allowed us to go on stage the first time, Eva Impact association that strongly believes in us, but also the "Mercatino Giapponese" that allowed us to make ourselves known to the Roman public and the Takemusu Aikido Dojo that believed in us and gave us a physical space to activate the Kyogen Course in Italian. Certainly I forget someone, but I absolutely thank all the people that support us and believe in us and for the readers that had the patience to get to read so far I would say: if you are curious, know that doing kyōgen in Italy is possible, with a respectful and pure traditional training in Rome at the "Kyogen Course in Italian." Let us remember that the kyōgen shows are comedies so the fun is guaranteed! We look forward to bringing it to other parts of Italy, write us to get all the information!
Thanks Luca I am sure that your interview will open new passions and want to learn more about the subject. We leave the contacts for more information, to be able to directly access the material on this incredible art of Japanese tradition.