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dance called bugaku (done to the accompaniment of gagaku or “elegant
music”), while others enjoyed only a temporary vogue and declined. Still
others, merging with miscellaneous native entertainments and ceremonials, ultimately contributed to the development of nò. 114 The Canons of Medieval Taste The two most popular theatrical forms of the early medieval age were
“monkey music” (sarugaku) and “field music” (dengaku). Nobody knows
the exact meaning of the term “monkey music,” although possibly it
comes from the comic-like acrobatics and mimicry practiced by sarugaku
actors. Dengaku, on the other hand, was a type of entertainment based
originally on the singing and dancing of peasants “in the fields” at harvest festivals.
By the Kitayama epoch, sarugaku and dengaku, though rivals with their
own schools of performers, appear to have influenced each other to the
point where they were probably quite similar in actual presentation. We
know from the records that both were immensely popular with people in
the capital and elsewhere. The last of the Hòjò regents, for example, is
reputed to have loved dengaku and other diversions so much that he completely neglected his duties at Kamakura; and, in 1349, so many people
crowded in to see a dengaku performance in Kyoto that the stands collapsed and scores were killed.
The fact that sarugaku, rather than dengaku, was transformed during
the Kitayama epoch into nò was partially fortuitous. In 1374 Yoshimitsu
attended his first performance of sarugaku and was so captivated by two
of its actors, Kan’ami (1333–84) and his son Zeami (1363–1443), that
henceforth he lavishly patronized their art. This was a most significant
event in Japanese cultural history, since without Yoshimitsu’s backing the
geniuses of Kan’ami and Zeami, who were instr umental in the creation
and perfection of nò, might have been dissipated on a theatrical form that
still catered to rather low and earthy tastes. Given e...
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- Spring '13