Some years ago I co-created Told by the Wind with Joanna Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli of The Llanarth Group in Wales. Informed by Quietude and Noh Theatre, we aimed to make a chamber piece shaped and inspired by the dramaturgy of the form and Japanese aesthetics, but not reproduce them. We were fortunate to have Japanese academic and translator Mari Boyd as an artistic advisor. It was her book, The Aesthetics of Quietude, which provided us with much stimulation in making this largely silent piece.
Mari was with us in Cardiff when we premiered the performance in 2010, and consistently said how interesting it was from her perspective, as anyone who knew Noh theatre would be able to recognise elements in our work, but it was most definitely not Noh, which was our intention. It also proved to be impossible to capture on video, even more so than other live performances, so when people ask about the performance, or question what is Quietude, I usually refer them to the delicate review by Elizabeth Mahoney from The Guardian:
Stripped of most elements we associate with drama, this intense meditation in movement revels in stillness. It’s so still at times, you worry that scratching your head or crossing your legs will be audible to all. Performers Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli, with writer Kaite O’Reilly, draw on Asian aesthetics, string theory and the Japanese theatre of quietude to present something that is beyond linear narrative, character and gripping plot twists.
Instead, they offer fragments of memory, speech and gestures, composed in moments that have a haunting, painterly beauty to them. A man and a woman are on stage together at all times, but never connect; he speaks a little, tugged at by the past, she remains silent, trying to form words but expressing herself physically as she shuffles, runs and dances in bare soil.
With no dialogue or fathomable action to follow, you try to make connections even though everything resists them. Is she in the memory he speaks of? Is she a character in the music he is writing, or the dance he appears to choreograph? What happens, slowly, is that those nagging questions subside and a calmer understanding emerges. It’s all very hypnotic, with repeated small movements and shards of sentences, and it has the astringent purity of a haiku poem, though haiku seems positively wordy in comparison.
The performers have a remarkable presence, even when their movement is barely perceptible. This is a challenging production, but oddly affecting and quietly cleansing. On the opening night, the audience lingered at the end, as if not wanting to head back out into the noisy, demanding world.
Mari also enjoyed the understated quality of the work and expressed a wish to bring the work to Tokyo, and perhaps create an exchange with another director, Okamura Yojiro and his company Ami Theatre, who also make contemporary work informed by Noh.
I’m delighted to announce that such an interaction, and collaboration will take place later this year in Tokyo between Phillip Zarrilli, Artistic Director of The Llanarth Group, me, as resident dramaturg/playwright of the company, and Okamura Yojiro, Artistic Director of AMI Theatre Company, Tokyo, Japan, and members of the two companies. We shall present performances of Told by the Wind, a new piece created by Okamura Yojiro, have workshop exchanges, discussion, and initiate a collaboration between the two companies as part of a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Japan-British relations. Mari Boyd will be part of this exchange.
We have already begun our interaction through hour long skype sessions between Wales and Japan, tentatively laying down the foundations for our exchange in November 2013.
As part of our desire to share publicly our discussions of dramaturgy, form, and process, I will be blogging about our Skype sessions here in English, whilst Mari or members of Ami Theatre will be blogging in Japanese.