Zeami (c.1363- c.1443) is credited with having refined the Noh tradition as it exists today. When it came to form, he adapted the Gagaku concept of modulation and movement called Jo-ha-kyū. The tripartite can be summarized as: Jo - slow, Ha - development / acceleration, and Kyū - fast conclusion, suggesting that most efforts should start slowly, and then speed up before rapidly ending. Zeami expanded the model from three to five sections by nesting the Jo-ha-kyū concept within the Ha, the tripartite’s longest section. Thus, his adaptation can be summarized as: Jo, Ha-jo, Ha-ha, Ha-kyū, Kyū.
Modern scholar, Mario Yokomichi (1916-2012) created a framework to understand the form of Noh play. Using Zeami’s five-section concept, he analyzed the form of typical two-act Noh plays attributed to Zeami. Then, he has formulated that each act consists of five sections called dan, which represent common events in the dramatic development of a Noh play. These are as follow:
|Act I (mae ba)|
|Waki Enters||Shite Enters||Dialogue||Shite Performs||Shite Exits|
|Act II (nochi ba)|
|Waki Waits||Shite Re-enters||Dialogue||Shite Performs||Shite Exits|
These categorizations adhere to the traditional divisions shared by actors and musicians. However, it is important to note that the Zeami/Yokomichi’s model is an ideal meant only to help in understanding an act, and facilitating comparisons between plays. It is not uncommon that some Noh plays lack certain dan.
According to Yokomichi, a dan consists of one or more shōdan, conventional units of form that have their own position and syntactical role within a dan. The word shōdan, meaning ‘small dan’, was coined by Mario Yokomichi to explain the hierarchical character of the form of a Noh play. There are about one hundred different kinds of shōdan that can be categorized into four types: Spoken, Chanted, Entrance and Exit music, and Dance music. Each shōdan is also characterized by a particular combination of poetry or prose, rhythmic setting, melodic shape, and instrumentation.
The same shōdan can be found in various plays. For instance, the majority of Noh plays include a Nanori, a spoken introduction presented by the secondary actor. It appears in Hashitomi as well as in Kokaji. Moreover, the same shōdan, such as the main chant Ageuta, can appear more than once in a play. For example, Hashitomi has two while Kokaji has three. For more information and video examples of shōdan please refer to the Catalog of Shōdan.
This appendix provides information on the shōdan commonly associated with various dan. It is presented solely as a reference-model, since a comparison limited to Hashitomi and Kokaji's form would show that deviations are not at all uncommon.
Thus, the construction of Noh plays, made of sequences of dan, each composed of shōdan, is said to be modular. In Noh, the concept of modularity does not exist exclusively in the overall formal, but also within individual media layers like dance and music. For instance, the nohkan’s melodies are sequences of shorter patterns. The nohkan player varies the patterns' expression to adapt them to given contexts, as illustrated with these examples: naka no takane, and takane mi kusari, and tome no te.
The patterns played by the percussionists are similarly constructed and controlled. This example shows how the rhythmic patterns played by the ōtsuzumi and kotsuzumi performers during an Ashirai, involve the juxtaposition of mitsuji and tsuzuke patterns. It also illustrates that their expression is altered when the rhythmic setting is strict rather than flexible.
Similarly, dances use a limited number of movements (kata) that are reused within a dance, a play, and even across plays. Moreover, some kata are modular. For instance, the Back Circlet is composed of the sequence of two shorter kata: a Right Step pivot followed by an Open-retreat. Similarly to music, the unifying impact of modularity is balanced by changing expressive interpretations of patterns performed in a different context. This is evident when comparing two versions of the Large Zigzag: first, as it is performed by a pensive ghost of a young woman in Hashitomi and second, performed in martial style by the vigorous diety in Kokaji. For more examples of kata please refer to the Catalog of Kata.