I’m writing this on the night flight to Tokyo. All around me people are sleeping, tucked up in airline blankets, some with surgical masks over their mouths. We fly over the frozen plains and mountains of Siberia – extraordinary terrain, the likes of which I’ve never seen, before. It is the topography of another planet – one colder and more hostile than the one I have inhabited recently.
The past days have been filled with strangers in the north of England telling me stories – or, rather, members of various audiences reading symbolism, interpreting subtext and telling me what narratives were suggested by watching a performance of The Llanarth Group’s ‘Told by the Wind.’
Jo Shapland, Ace McCarron, Phillip Zarrilli and I travelled to Huddersfield University last week to be part of a conference organised by the Centre for Psychophysical Performance. We presented three performances of ‘Told by the Wind’ as part of the conference as well as for the general public. In anticipation for this tour to Tokyo, I shakily took over running the show from Ace, ably supported by Hannah and Tom, two student technicians from the University.
Jo, Phillip and I co-created ‘Told by the Wind’ almost four years ago, working with artistic advisor Mari Boyd, an academic and translator of the late great Japanese playwright Ota Shogo. Mari’s highly recommended book, ‘The Aesthetics of Quietude’ was influential in our thinking when creating the performance, which uses embodied silences, spare text and slowed down motion. The following, from Mari’s book, is something we quote often in programme notes and ‘Talk backs’ after the performances.
“The underlying principle of quietude is what the Japanese [playwright] Ota Shogo terms ‘the power of passivity’. Passivity in art refers to the making of aesthetic distance. Instead of trying to aggressively transmit meaning to the audience, passivity exercises a spirit of ‘self reliance’…that compels the audience to attend, focus and participate imaginatively in the pursuit of signification, meaning, and pleasure. Passivity thus paradoxically engages the audience in a dynamic exchange of energy.” The Aesthetics of Quietude by Mari Boyd.
In our desire not to ‘fix’ or promote one particular narrative in the work, we have prompted members of the audience to make their own – hence the different stories and versions of our work I have been told by audience members this week.
It was Mari who, at the 2010 premiere at Chapter arts centre in Cardiff , suggested we try and bring this work to Tokyo. She was interested in how the work was informed by Japanese aesthetics but didn’t attempt to replicate them. I was influenced by Noh dramaturgy when structuring the piece – an influence Mari felt was discernible to those, like her, familiar with the form – and yet we clearly were not attempting to make Noh theatre, but a contemporary, Western piece inspired by it.
And so here it is – happening. We are on our way to Tokyo to present the work and begin a cultural exchange with Ami Theatre, whose new performance ‘Silent Rain in the Neander Forest’ by Yojiro Okamura we shall see tomorrow. It is the start of an extraordinary journey – and one I shall document here over the next three weeks.