New Year’s Resolutions

明けましておめでとうございます。Happy New Year, everyone!

Stepping into the year 2014, I cannot help but feel that it’s the best time for a new start, with new aims and plans. To be honest, what I like most about this time of the year is the holidays! Even one single day spent away from classes or work feels enough to put our thoughts in order.

My new year’s resolutions regarding this blog were clearly set even before the end of 2013, but I’ll post them here anyway. As you might imagine, nothing is more motivating than sharing one’s thoughts, so here I go:

  1. To update more often. (I bet you saw this coming, didn’t you? 🙂 )
  2. To find a better balance between quality and quantity when it comes to information on theatre events.
  3. To keep a closer eye on the work of young theatre artists.

I guess a short explanation would be appropriate here. There are artists whose work was known to me before I came to Japan. To see performances by Seinendan, Chelfitsch, Ninagawa Yukio, Kara Jūrō, Suzuki Tadashi, Noda Hideki, Matsuda Masataka and many others who were mentioned in the theatre theory classes I used to attend was on top of my priority list. I was able to start writing about theatre by using these artists’ work as a reference, because it is obviously easier to write when you have some prior knowledge. However, after spending some time here I realized at some point that what’s happening outside the mainstream in Japanese theatre might be as interesting and important as the work of established names. In most cases it’s about companies with a performing history of less than three years, unknown outside Japan, who are nonetheless doing ground-breaking work. Even local critics are struggling to find a “language”, i.e. proper concepts to use when discussing these young people’s creations. I hope to be able to introduce the work of theatre companies like mum & gypsy マームとジプシー, lolo  ロロ, Okazaki geijutsu-za 岡崎芸術座、hi-bye ハイバイ, mamagoto  ままごと, Arata Mino  三野新, Siberia shōjo tetsudō  シベリア少女鉄道, Wasshoi house わっしょいハウス and others.

4.  To expand the geographical range of the column on upcoming events. (This is a tough one 🙂 )

One of the latest and most positive trends in contemporary Japanese theatre is decentralization – the work of artists who are active outside of Tokyo is attracting much attention towards the theatre scene of other places than the capital. At the same time, performing arts festivals like KYOTO EXPERIMENT, Toga Festival (Toyama) and Edamitsu Theatre Festival (Fukuoka) have reached a scale and a quality that can no longer be ignored by discourses on Japanese theatre. To travel outside the metropolitan area, see theatre and report from the spot is one of my objectives for this year.

5.  To manage doing all the above without neglecting my main research project! Or else I’ll be in big trouble… Well, reporting regularly on this blog on how research is going might also be a good idea. Would anyone like to read about Zeami’s view on incorporating the literary tradition of the Heian period into Noh theatre? 🙂

I’ll stop here, while the list is still within reasonable limits. Of course, I’ll be open to any new ideas that particular circumstances might bring in. Let me just say that I’m very excited to see what this year brings.

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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. 🙂

Blog Camp in F/T

blogcamp_aDuring Festival/Tokyo I will be taking part in Blog Camp in F/T, a project by performing arts journalist Kyoko Iwaki, inviting theatre bloggers to discuss the works presented at the festival.

For the latest news on Tokyo’s theatre scene please be sure to check out the page of Blog Camp in F/T. Yuko Nakamura, Kazuhide Shimamura and Chika Goto will be writing in Japanese, while Bertrand Lesca and me will be blogging in English. With a wide range of articles – from reviews and essays to interviews with the artists and group discussions about the performances seen at F/T, we are planning to share what is going this month at the festival.

Change of tactics

The blessing of summer holidays is finally here, so there are no more excuses for me not updating this blog 🙂 All the plays I’ve been seeing lately just cannot wait to be turned into material for articles.

However I’ve been thinking of doing some changes in the way I write. One of the fascinating things about theatre is its openness – it easily inpires thoughts, images and further connections, and it is a real joy to explore each and every corner of the world that opens up after you leave the theatre, whilst you are still under the lingering impression of what you have witnessed.

As much as I would like to write in detail about every theatre performance, the lack of time is really pressing, so I have no choice but to select one or two plays from the ones I see each month. In this selection process, usually smaller scale performances get sacrificed, although they may have been just as impressive.

So I’ve thought of writing shorter, mainly informative articles along the more elaborate ones, which require some research. As I will probably end up writing while commuting by train or while being half asleep, I apologize in advance for the roughness of their style. I will give it a try and see how it goes.

One more thing I’ve been thinking about is a adding monthly selection of upcoming shows. The idea was inspired to me while reading some articles on the Imperial Theatre written by Zoe Kincaid in a newspaper from the beginning of the century, called “The Far East”. Mrs. Kincaid used to announce upcoming performances at the major theatres in Tokyo at that time – late Taishō era (1912-1926): The Imperial Theatre, Meiji-za, Shintomi-za and Kabuki-za. To be honest, I was mesmerized by her enthusiastic, witty and exceptionally insightful style and I learned greatly about the Japanese stage of that time.

But even more than that, I liked the idea of announcing a play before its actual stage production. It will be hard to choose three or four performances out of hundrends going on each month (the theatre world nowadays differs greatly, both in numbers and in quality, from the one covered by Mrs. Kincaid). Moreover, I am aware that the selection will most probably reflect my own tastes and circumstances, that is why it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It is only an attempt to get even closer to the Japanese theatre scene and to take the readers of this blog with me along the way 🙂

Small note of apology

I am sorry for having failed to update this blog in a while. I have been busy with preparing for and passing the exam which would ensure that I would be able to keep up with the Japanese stage for the next three years. Now that I have that cleared up, I should be able to get back to the kind of work I like most, i.e. writing about theatre.

I would like to thank everyone who still visited this blog and checked for updates. The feedback I received was very encouraging, so thank you very much.