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22:34 | Sep 17 | 2012

From the Depths of Time

Yakutsk will host the II International UNESCO Masterpieces in the Land of Olonkho Festival.

The festival, which will take place from 10 to 16 July, 2012, as part of the V International Children of Asia Sports Games, is arranged by the Ministry of Culture and Spiritual Development of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) and the North-Eastern Federal University named after M.K. Ammosov with the support of Russia’s Ministry of Culture under the auspices of UNESCO.
Yakutia residents and visitors will get a unique opportunity to become acquainted with customs and traditions from around the world in one place. They won’t have to travel to another country. All they will have to do is come to the festival and enjoy authentic performances by troupes demonstrating their art, which has been proclaimed by UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Read on about three troupes, Kunqu Opera (China), Noh Theater (Japan), and Songs of Bauls, mystic minstrels, (Bangladesh).

Kunqu, aka Kunshan Opera
It is an ancient form of opera, a gem of the Chinese drama and performing arts.
Its key features are music, singing, martial arts, acrobatics, and acting. Most operas are based on famous classic myths and the Chinese history. Following the development of Kunqu Opera one can trace the way other types of Chinese opera developed. Kunqu Opera directly influenced the establishment and development of Peking Opera, Sichuan Opera, Hunan Opera, Huangmei Opera, Yueju Opera, and many other types of Chinese opera, which is why it was called “the forefather of Chinese opera”.
Kunqu belongs to literary arts as well. It is different from other types of music drama and has a fixed set of scripts, written by prominent playwrights of various time periods. The texts are considered monuments of the ancient language of arts.
There are over a thousand tune names in Kunqu Opera. Performances incorporate both singing and dancing. Special attention is paid to facial expressions and gestures of actors.
As a traditional Chinese music drama, Kunqu Opera has always attracted the attention of art experts and connoisseurs. After the 1950s the Committee was established in China to develop Kunqu Opera.
In 2001, Kunqu Opera was proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Later, in 2005, the State Fund was established to protect and promote one of the oldest forms of opera.

Noh Theater
It is one of the oldest Japanese drama theaters, originated in the XIV century. Noh Theater is a space of the ritual, the purpose of which is to watch the unseen world.
In Noh Theater the text and words of drama are intricately blended with music – rhythm, noises, rustling – dancing – pantomime, gestures, movements, poses – pauses, and peculiar style of singing cum recitation, both reading and shouting.
Noh Drama is a world of gestures. Many gestures of actors have a clearly defined meaning but there are some gestures that are simply beautiful and are used to enhance the overall harmony and integrity. The intensity of feelings can be emphasized by the total absence of sounds and movements. But it is not quietness that is created; it is a tense silence, telling a sophisticated audience more than words could tell.
Masks are an essential characteristic of Noh Drama. A distinctive feature of Noh masks is that they actually express emotions. A mask is a sacred object in its own way. It’s a distinguishing sign of Noh Theater and is considered a symbol of acting. The hardest thing to do is to breathe life into a rigid mask and make it express exactly what the text wants it to express.
That is why, when an actor turns 12 or 13 years old, he is put through a rite of passage to be accepted into the world of Noh Theater. There is a ceremony when the head of the troupe puts on the boy’s face the oldest mask of Okina, the clan elder. That is also why before a play an actor performing in a mask undergoes a purification ceremony involving rice, salt, and sake, and then a putting-on-a-mask ceremony. At first, he gently holds the mask in his hands, contemplating for a long time, then he puts it on and quietly stands in front of a big mirror dressed in his costume. He tries to enter a state of no-mind, or mushin, i.e. parting with his own self and immersing himself completely in his character.
In 2001, Noh Theater was proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage as a unique, authentic, and inspirational phenomenon, which plays a significant part in the cross-cultural exchange and is of vital importance in the modern cultural and social context.

Baul Songs (Bangladesh)
The Bauls are a group of mystic minstrels, who have been living in West Bengal for hundreds, maybe even thousands, years. The word Baul means a Holy Madman. Bauls rebel against any religious traditions and their search for mad love for God oversteps any boundaries. Poetry, music, and dancing are their way of reaching God. Clothes and musical instruments are their only possessions. They don’t need anything else. People living in Bengal consider them holy men and protect them at all costs.
By traditions, singing is not just a way for Bauls to express themselves creatively – it is the only way of transferring knowledge. The key Baul concept is the “inner man” image related to their idea of a person as a microcosm. To express the idea of “an inner man” most fully, song writers use a wide range of poetic devices and symbols.
Baul music influenced greatly and inspired Rabindranath Tagore. Though small in population, Bauls’ have influenced the culture of Bengal considerably.
In 2005, Bauls were included in the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage by UNESCO.

Who Is Attending the Festival
The festival program includes the following: the Wayang Puppet Theatre (Indonesia), Namsadang Nori, a traveling entertaining theater troupe, and ¨يٌهينو‎ (Republic of Korea), Kunqu Opera (China), Baul Songs (Bangladesh), Kutiyattam, an ancient form of Sanskrit theatre (India), Opera dei Pupi, a Sicilian puppet show (Italy), the Mask Dance of the Drums from Drametse (Bhutan), Noh Theater (Japan), the folk music performed on the morin khuur and Urtiin Duu, the traditional folk long song (Mongolia), the Art of Akyns, Kyrgyz epic tellers, the Cultural Space and Oral Culture of the Semeiskie, the Old Believers of the Trans-Baikal region, and Olonkho, a Yakut heroic epos, (Russia), the Space of the Gong Culture, playing the gong (Vietnam), the Hudhud Chants of the Ifugao (Philippines), and Mak Yong Theater (Malaysia).