Best performances of 2013

Looking back at the theatre performances seen this year (I do keep of record of them, otherwise many of them would risk disappearing into oblivion…) is one of the most fun things to do now when we’re preparing to welcome the New Year.

My theatre list for 2013 comprises 52 performances, differing greatly in genre and in scale. Each title conjures up stories, images and thoughts, so it is very difficult to select what I would call the best among them. To ignore the fact that they belong to different genres and that they cannot be easily compared to one another makes the selection task unfair from the start. But if I should honestly name three performances that left a deep impression on me, I would choose these:

  • Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan 『東海道四谷怪談』 by Kinoshita Kabuki 木ノ下歌舞伎 – a contemporary version of the famous kabuki play by the same title. Both the head of the troupe, Kinoshita Yūichi  木ノ下裕一, and the director of this particular work, Sugihara Kunio  杉原邦生, are young artists taking the contemporary interpretation of kabuki works very seriously – in a fun way. With this performance spanning over about six hours they showed us an ingenious approach to Tsuruya Naboku’s play, which manages to stay closer to the original text than the actual kabuki stage. You can get a glimpse of their style by watching this video:
  • Symposium by Tokyo Deathlock. As I mentioned in this article, I appreciated this work for three reasons: 1) the way it involves the audience, doing away with the usual, hierarchical relationship between actor and spectator; 2) for its very subtle play with the border between fiction and reality, and 3) for the concept of acting by “guided improvisation” – director Tada Junnosuke 多田淳之介 entrusts the contents and the lines to the actors, offering them only guidelines, a framework within which they should act. This is what makes every performance of this work an unrepeatable experience.
  • “Dear Late Summer Sister” Natsu no owari no imōto『夏の終わりの妹』by U-ench saisei jigyōdan 遊園地再生事業団. For a short presentation of this work, please refer to this previous blog post. With a plot going to and fro between real geographical places and fictional ones, defying both space and time, “Dear Late Summer Sister” is a very dense work, both contents- and acting-wise. It is truly what one could call “intertextual theatre”, where meaning emerges through layers upon layers of memory, narratives and images.

As far as my theatre viewing is concerned, 2013 was overall a satisfying year, with many enlightening discoveries. There is something like a virtual map of the Japanese theatre world gradually taking contours in my head. To be sure, it is a living, moving map, with more than three dimensions. You may call it a typical researcher’s fixation to take the time and think about every performance and to try to place it on this map. At the same time I feel one should be very careful not to get too absorbed by this kind of tools, for they are only of temporary use. One of the things I learned this year is that the Japanese theatre landscape is changing at a high pace – what seems fresh this year becomes obsolete in the next, that is why clear-cut remarks and categorizations are very tricky. In any case, for now there’s nothing better than knowing that there is still a lot to do, to see and to write about.

Let me finish this entry in a Japanese way, by thanking all of you, the readers of this blog, for your continuous support. I’d be very grateful if you would keep checking out for updates in the year to come. I wish you all a happy New Year, full of joyful events and stimulating encounters. 🙂

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This and that at the end of December

After the end of this year’s Festival/Tokyo it took me longer than I thought to “move out” from Ikebukuro, so I have to begin again by apologizing for not updating in a while. F/T absorbed our attention until the last day with very good performances. The winner of the F/T Award in the Emerging Artists Program went to Chong Wang and Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental for “The Warfare of Landmine 2.0“.

At the same time until December 15th an international Ibsen Festival had been going on at the Owlspot theatre, focusing on contemporary interpretations of “A Doll’s House” with artists coming from Belgium, Norway, Romania, Japan and Chile. This was also quite an engaging event, demonstrating once again that creative reworks of Ibsen’s play can emphasize the actuality and the artistic potential of this work.

On December 18th the theatre world around here was taken aback by the sudden announcement about the administration change of Festival/Tokyo. From next year F/T will have a new director (see official announcement here). The news was all the more surprising as it came with no official statement explaining the reason for this change. From its inauguration Festival/Tokyo has been organized six times under the supervision of curator Chiaki Soma, whose efforts and vision have shaped this event into the most eagerly awaited performing arts festival of each year. We all hope and expect that Festival/Tokyo will keep its high standards under the new leadership.

"Ground and Floor" (Chelfitsch) 14-23 December 2013, KAAT

“Ground and Floor” (Chelfitsch)
14-23 December 2013, KAAT

Meanwhile, from December 14th through the 23rd Chelfitsch performed their most recent work Jimen to yuka 『地面と床』(“Ground and Floor”) at the Kanagawa Arts Theatre. They are dealing with the theme of life and death in this work – to be more exact, with the living and the dead – and the work has been praised both for its take on the subject and for the performance style. It is a work appealing directly to the conscience of the people living nowadays, bringing up subjects like the responsibility we have towards the society we live in and verbalizing exactly the kind of guilt feelings and uncertainties that people around here avoid talking about. Although I have seen an open rehearsal of the stage back in April, I failed to see the performance now in December and I really regret it. To the initially announced number of performances two more were added, but tickets were sold out immediately.

I plan to update once more before the end of the year, so I’ll keep my best wishes until then 🙂 Have a great time!