TPAM 2014 report

The Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama 2014 took place from February 8th through the 16th. It coincided with the time of the heaviest snowfall that the Tokyo area has seen in several years. This complicated things a bit both for the organizers and for audiences, but luckily there was no need to suspend any of the shows in the program. I managed to go to Yokohama only one time during TPAM and tried to make the best use out of the few hours spent there.

RE/PLAY (DANCE Edit.)

RE/PLAY (DANCE Edit.)

The first performance I saw was RE/PLAY (DANCE Edit.), directed by Tada Junnosuke in collaboration with choreographer Kitamari. Based on a previous work with the same title by Tokyo Deathlock, the dance version of RE/PLAY is an interrogation of the meaning of dance. A background song is repeated several times and the eight performers have to execute the same choreography each time the song is replayed. The opening and the ending songs were repeated three times each, but in between it was only The Beatles’ “Ob-la-di ob-la-da” (I’m sorry I wasn’t inspired enough to count the times that this tune was played, forcing the dancers to do the same set of movements over and over again, but it must have been around ten times.) The interesting part was that, though the choreography was indeed the same each time, there was actually a gradual increase in the speed of the movements. This hinted at the way that the human body reacts when forced to repeat the same action over and over again. Endless repetition is unnatural for the living body, which responds through exhaustion. To the spectators, who were seated comfortably while watching this process of usage of the human body, it was enough food for thought. There was actually a moment within the performance, when the dancers stopped and just stood and looked at the audience. Being stared at by the exhausted performers for about three minutes in silence was a chilling experience.

Each performer has elaborated their own movements, so there are no two alike. Although each one’s individuality has founds its own expression, the dancers relate by confirming each other’s position and timing in the performance space. The overall sight is of a world where each individual can be himself or herself while taking part in the larger story of the community. This spirit is in accord with the concept of Symposium, the previous Tokyo Deathlock work, and as far as we can guess it probably is the defining trait of the theatre that Tada Junnosuke creates.

After seeing RE/PLAY I hurried up to the Yokohama Creative City Center, where An Exhibition called “Play” was taking place. Three artists united their efforts for this project: photographer Hamada Hideaki, designer Takizawa Kai and theatre director Shiba Yukio (mamagoto). Their idea of a “Play” was to have the spectator perform – within the photography exhibition (with the motto: “photographs are gifts to the future”), the visitor is asked to take pictures himself with a set of cameras placed there in advance; one can wear the several clothes exhibited, imagining how it would be to live the life of their previous owner; in the third exhibition, the viewer takes part in a quiet exchange of questions and answers. This collaboration was based on an open, interactive concept, inviting us to reconsider the idea of “performance”.

I was so absorbed by the exhibition that I forgot to take pictures of it, although it was allowed to! When I realized it, I was already on my way to the next venue, so there was nothing to be done. Though it doesn’t have any connection to anything, I’ll just post this picture from that evening in Yokohama instead. As you can see, the amount of snow was not to be trifled with.

Yokohama in winter

Yokohama in winter

For the evening I chose the performance of mum & gypsy, “R and the weightless surges”. Although I mentioned this company several times on this blog, it was the first time I saw them on stage. “R and the weightless surges” is a story about the members of a boxing club. One of them commits suicide and it is suggested that he had been badly treated by the others. A very physical performance, with a high pace and a rhythmical choreography is used to describe the man’s loneliness and the ever growing darkness of the inner crisis that eventually annihilates his existence.

The already established trademark of mum & gypsy’s performance style is “refrain” – the repetition of movements and phrases. Upon receiving the Kishida Kunio Theatre Award in 2013, director Fujita Takahiro was criticized for his use of repetition within the script. However, as far as the performance is concerned, the “refrain” proves to be most effective in expressing a critical situation rising to a climax. The words and the movements might be same, but the degree of tension behind them and the way the repetition is executed differs each time, so in the end it is no repetition at all, but rather a spiral effect revolving with an increasing speed. It is within this spiral that human bodies and emotions are put under pressure, being constrained to change shape, whether they want it or not. The performance style of mum & gypsy is most impressive and I invite you to see it with your own eyes, by watching this fragment of a previous performance, K to mayonaka no hotori de “With K by midnight”:

 

I hope these few impressions about TPAM 2014 gave you an idea of how vibrant this performing arts festival is. I am already looking forward to the next edition.

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Tokyo Theatres in February

As I mentioned in the previous entry, the main event in the performing arts world this month is TPAM – The Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama, going on from the 8th through the 16th.

The TPAM Showcase consists of about 24 stages for audiences to choose from, presented by artists working in the front lines of contemporary Japanese theatre. Here are some performances which I personally look forward to:

  • Hanako nitsuite “About Hanako”, which is the 7th work in the series of Contemporary Noh Plays produced by Nomura Mansai. It comprises a Butō version of the Noh Aoi no Ue 『葵上』, a contemporary theatre version of the Kyōgen Hanako and a new take on Mishima Yukio’s modern Noh play Hanjo – all under the direction of Kuramochi Yutaka. (Theatre Tram, 5th -16th February)
  • RE/PLAY (DANCE edit). The highly acclaimed work by Tokyo Deathlock director Tada Junnosuke will be recreated in a dance version, in collaboration with choreographer Kitamari. (Steep Slope Studio, 14-16 February)

    TPAM 2014 - Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama (8-16 February)

    TPAM 2014 – Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama (8-16 February)

  • “Happy Days” by theatre company ARICA. Beckett’s play will receive a fresh approach through the stunning stage art by Kaneuji Teppei and the performance of former Tenkei gekijō actress Andō Tomoko, which are the promise of a work definitely worth seeing. (Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse No.1, 3F Hall, 14-16 February)
  • “Noise and Darkness” 『騒音と闇』by Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker 革命アイドル暴走ちゃん. This new work wearing the signature of Nikaidō Toko, the mastermind behind the controversial Banana Gakuen, will give us the opportunity to experience at a very physical level how close is absurdity to our everyday lives. (Sotetsu Honda Theater, 14-16 February)

The festival features also an International Showcase with stages by performers from France, China, South Korea and Finland.

The weight given to choreography and bodily presence on stage and the tendency to rely less and less on the word of a script is not only the common feature of all these works, but the most recent trend in Japanese performing arts. TPAM is a great opportunity to witness all this in real time, so don’t miss it if you’re in the area.

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.

Tokyo theatres in August

Summer is the holiday season for theatres in Europe – a difficult time for theatre lovers, who are thus deprived of their favorite enjoyment for three long months. However it is also the time of performing arts festivals, which do a great job in filling the gap until September, when theatres resume their activities. With Festival d’Avignon in July and The Fringe going on right now until the end of August in Edinburgh, there is still a lot to see and to experience, although clustered in one corner of the continent or another.

In Japan there is no off season for theatres, so business is going on as usual, with hundreds of performances every week, leaving both artists and audiences no time to even dream of feeling bored 🙂 Regardless of their scale, the shows in summer tend to be exuberant, invigorating and full of joie de vivre, so you can rest assured you’ll be leaving the theatre in high spirits no matter where you happen to enter.

Here is a very small selection of August performances, which I would recommend heartily:

Unarguably the most awaited show of this summer in Tokyo is ABKAI ―えびかい―, starring kabuki actor Ichikawa Ebizō and comprising two performances – Jayanagi『蛇柳』, a famous play in the kabuki repertoire, firstly performed by Edo period kabuki star Ichikawa Danjurō in 1763, and Hanasaka jiisan『花咲じいさん』, an original kabuki dramatization of a Japanese fairy-tale. Award-winning dramatist Miyazawa Akio has been entrusted with writing the script for the latter, while Miyamoto Amon, renowned for his staging of musicals, is responsible for its direction. With this trio of highly acclaimed artists, the performance promises to be a real success. “ABKAI” has already started on August 3rd and will continue until the 18th at Bunkamura Theater Cocoon in Shibuya.

At the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre, Theatre East, the theatre company mum & gypsy will perform their latest work “cocoon” from August 5th through 18th. Originally a manga by illustrator Kyō Machiko, “cocoon” depicts Okinawa during World War II. The mixture of real facts with fantasy in this work has been praised enthusiastically, leading to its dramatization under the supervision of young director Fujita Takahiro, himself an artist who has been gathering much attention recently.

Yaneura © Rinkogun

Yaneura © Rinkogun

Starting with August 30th through September 5th we will have the chance to see Rinkōgun’s famous work “The Attic” Yaneura『屋根裏』(directed by Sakate Yōji), which will be restaged at the company’s atelier Umegaoka Box. (Yes, you’ve got it right. The whole action unfolds inside that trapezoid box!). Rinkōgun will be touring Europe this year in September, by the way, with performances of “The Attic” in Ukraine and Italy.

The performances I personally look forward to seeing this month:

On the side of traditional performing arts there is a special summer event held on August 29th at the National Noh Theatre, consisting of three separates acts, each belonging to a different genre of comedy – kyōgen “Hanaori”, rakugo “Shinigami” and kōdan “Hachi no ki”.

Have a fabulous summer, everyone, wherever you happen to find yourselves, inside or outside the theatre 🙂