Shimai refers to a part of the Noh play where a performer dances without wearing masks or costumes. This is a casual form of the Noh performance.
In a broad sense, it indicates performances that include Shimai and Maibayashi (an abbreviated style of Noh); however, in contrast with Maibayashi, Shimai generally indicates a short dance without being accompanied by music, in which mai-goto (instrumental dances) and hataraki-goto (descriptive pieces) are abbreviated. In Maibayashi, most parts relating to dances by Noh shite (leading role) is performed in one play, while in Shimai, dances performed by the shite which is accompanied by Utai (the chanting of a Noh text) are extracted. Therefore, several numbers of Shimai are excerpted from one piece in some cases.
In most cases, a style is based on kuse or Maiguse in Noh (a long segment, the aural highlight of a Noh play), segments subject to it, Kiri (the concluding segment of a Noh play which combines chant and dance) and danmono (the most important type of the koto solo instrumental music.)
However, a form specific to Shimai is originally choreographed so that the beginning and ending parts are settled, and in other parts, forms are also choreographed toward raising the symbolic nature of the whole by revising the choreography that has a strong nature of Ateburi (expressing the meaning of verses by dancing).
Shimai is performed only to the accompaniment of Noh-jiuta (Noh chorus), and donning of Montsuki hakama (formal Japanese attire for a man, consisting of a kimono dyed with the family crest and a long, loose, pleated skirt) or kamishimo (samurai costume, old ceremonial costume), instead of wearing Noh costumes and Noh masks. A performer chants the first phrase in a sitting posture regardless of original designation, then stands up and dances, and finally performs a movemenet called Uchikomi (the Scooping Point), and then sits down and finishes the piece. For most Yokyoku (Noh song), Jiutai (Noh chorus) is used; however, sometimes the performer and Jiutai sing in turn. The performance is quite short, about ten minutes on average, and the longest being about twenty minutes. Although Shimai is mainly performed by a shite-kata (main role), there are other variations such as dances carried out by two performers in the form of Ryojite (dual Shite) like 'Kosode Soga' (The Soga and the wadded silk robe) and "'Futari Shizuka' (a couple of the young ladies named Shizuka), and performances of different dances between Shite (main role) and Tsure (performer appearing after the shite) on the same stage like 'Ryoko (Noh)' (dragon and tiger) and 'Shari (Noh)' (bones left after cremation). In this case, two actors perform together (Shimai also has another variation in which two actors, Shite and Waki (supporting actor), perform together like 'Daija' (big snake). Shimai is also performed by Waki-kata (supporting actors) like 'Choryo' and 'Rashomon Gate,' and a Noh farce actor also performs komai (short dances in Noh farce) that is similar to Shimai.
Shimai is also performed for stage, but, is used as a phase of practicing Noh.
The basis of Shimai is Suriashi (shuffle), which is a unique way of walking (Particularly known as Hakobi) in which the sole of the feet slide along the floor without raising the heels. In order to do this smoothly, actors have to lower their center of gravity by bending their knees.
In other words, this is 'Kamae' (posture.)
Another characteristic of Noh is that performers move in a circular pattern on a square stage in consideration for audiences on three sides, while Kabuki (traditional Japanese drama performed by male actors) and Classical Japanese dance derived from Kabuki are performed on a rectangular stage on the premise for showing the performance to audiences in the front. The Noh stage is made so as to resonate sound, as performer's stamping on the floor of the stage (Ashi Byoshi) is considered an important element.
The following are major forms in Shimai.
Stand upright, and extend the right hand high while holding a fan forward.
Open hands horizontally while taking three steps backward in the order corresponding to left foot, right foot and left foot. The form of performing Shikake and Hiraki in succession is called Shikake-hiraki (or Sashikomi-hiraki).
The form of raising the right hand and taking one or several steps to the right after raising a left hand and taking one or several steps to the left.
The form of raising a fan held with a right hand from the side to the top, and holding it up high to the front.
Extending the hand to the front. This form indicates crying.
Hide the face using a fan held with the left hand, indicating sleeping.
Shimai consists of a series of these forms. According to Tamotsu WATANABE who is following a theory by Kunio YANAGIDA, the term 'Odori' (dances in Classical Japanese dance, and so on) also refers to jumping, but, the term 'Mai' (dances in Noh) means 'revolving' which means a circular movement. Characteristics of dances in Noh are extreme Suriashi, a unique posture, and a circular movement.
The general impression of dances in Noh is static; however, dances in Noh have a slow and quick movement called Johakyu (three segments of performance and speed of plays; slower and quieter performance during the jo (beginning), gradually gaining tempo in the ha (middle portion), and becoming more energetic during the kyu (denouement)), and in Hakobi, performers also start moving slowly, step up the tempo gradually and stop suddenly. In some rare cases, acrobatic performances (Tobikaeri (backward somersault), Hotokedaore (performance that represents death or falling unconscious), and so on) are performed in aggressive types of pieces. However, it does not mean that performers are taking a break while standing still; rather it means that performers are simply remaining stationary in order to balance a multitude of the forces. As stated above, Shimai has another characteristic of eliciting forces and tension from inside out, producing a large impact on the audience.