Tag Archives: Ami Theatre

Llareggub, Welsh Noh, and me.

I’m currently deep in Dylan Thomas territory – the hype, history, and cultural tourism created about the man. I’ve been invited to write an essay on Dylan Thomas by that literary mountain of a man, Jon Gower, who is editing a collection. There is much noise being made about legacy in this centenary of Thomas’s birth, and especially so when living where I do, close to where he spent the late war years, 1944-45.

Some weeks ago the nature poet Chris Kinsey and I took ourselves off for a wander around Newquay, Cei Bach, and St Ina’s Church at Llanina Point in Ceredigion. It’s my local walk, but we were doing it as a literary pilgrimage, following the blue plastic plaques and local hearsay about where Dylan Thomas walked, talked, wrote, and (most importantly for the commercial impact) drank.

I have to confess, I hate ‘The Dylan Thomas Trail.’  These strangely marbled plaques bearing the face of a young Dylan Thomas decorate the odd tree or wall, leaving me mystified as to the locality’s significance. There’s no nearby information and the ‘map’ which the literary curious are supposed to follow to decipher the import of each place wasn’t available and the tourist information office was closed.

The information boards around Newquay aren’t much better. They’re fine for the day trippers to glance at when licking an ice cream on a sunny August bank holiday, but they can’t hold their own against the posters advertising the wild porpoises and bottle nosed dolphins who visit these parts. I also find the ‘facts’ about Thomas so bland as to render any detail invisible. Sure, the local tourist board may not want to go into his drunken exploits and womanising (although that seems to be what everyone wants to discuss), but his literary legacy and strong connection between creativity and place could be drawn a little clearer. Newquay is reputed to be the inspiration for Llareggub (say it backwards), the marine town in ‘Under Milk Wood’, although the Thomases walked, bickered, and drank a longer trail, up to Tal Sarn and Llanon, further up the coast.

So we took ourselves out across the beach at low tide in a wind blowing itself up into a gale, shivering in the February drizzle. Poor Chris was incubating a stupendous cold and wading about in the fresh springs that flow across the beach and into Cardigan Bay mustn’t have helped. We walked up to St Ina’s Church, one of my favourite spots in Spring, when the graveyard and surrounding wood overlooking the sea is filled with bluebells, nodding my approval as always at the revision of one of Thomas’s most famous lines on a headstone by the gate: ‘Go gentle into that good night.’ Chris also shared my enthusiasm for the rewrite, saying on a personal level we wouldn’t want a loved one raging into death.

Writing the essay for Jon has refreshed my relationship to where I live, and reanimated my thoughts about language. characterisation, and playwriting. My focus has been on ‘Under Milk Wood’ and it has been a pleasure and education to revisit this text, especially when in the shelter of one of the nooks in Newquay harbour, ostensibly in the shadow of Captain Cat’s house.

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Today’s blog has a distinctly Welsh flavour, for my essay on The Llanarth Group’s  cultural exchange with Ami Theatre in Japan last November has been published in the most recent edition of New Welsh Review. An extract of the account of touring ‘Told by the Wind’ to Babylon Theatre in Tokyo, and an exploration of what NWR editor Gwen Davies has coined ‘Welsh Noh’ can be found at:

http://www.newwelshreview.com/article.php?id=706

I’m off to give a last polish to my essay on Dylan Thomas, then head out to Cei Bach to walk along the golden sand and look across to Llareggub/Newquay in this  sudden welcome Spring sunlight.

Exeunt review: Silent Rain in the Neander Forest

Okamura Yojiro and Takuzo Kubikuri of Ami Theatre

Okamura Yojiro and Takuzo Kubikuri of Ami Theatre

Silent Rain in the Neander Forest

BY OKAMURA YOJIRO

PERFORMED BY AMI THEATRE.

Reviewed by Kaite O’Reilly for Exeunt Magazine of performances seen at Babylon Theatre Tokyo on November 2nd  and 3rd 2013.

http://exeuntmagazine.com/reviews/silent-rain-in-the-neander-forest/

The twin natural disasters of the earthquake and tsunami, known in Japan as 3/11, throw a long shadow across Ami Theatre’s latest production, ‘Silent Rain in the Neander Forest.’ This experience brought home to Japanese people the possibility of the end of the human race, playwright Okamura Yojiro claims.

 In the northern district of Tokyo, down narrow lanes past a Buddhist temple and several Shinto shrines is Theatre Babylon, a small black box studio and home to Ami theatre. The work artistic director, playwright and actor Okamura Yojiro creates is unusual, combining central principals of noh theatre, one of Japan’s traditional performance arts dating back to Zeami in the fourteenth century, with contemporary experimental work. The work does not attempt to modernise noh in the way dramatists like Colin Teevan in the UK has tried to in recent years. Rather, it finds an effective synthesis between striking linguistic imagery, slippage of time, and slowed down movement.

This is not a production with a chronological narrative, or what could be defined as ‘characters’. It is minimal and sparse, made predominantly of separate monologues by three speaking actors who appear on stage, and a fourth, Kazuko Shimazu, whose melodic voice in the shadows interweaves between, commenting and montaging.

The opening chilling monologue, performed by Yojiro, speaks of ‘a destroyed town spread before me like a flashback’ and a tram which will never come, for ‘I had seen it sucked into darkness. Where did the wind come from?’ In an astonishing and effecting dialogue with Yojiro, Rino Nakajima plays a ten year old schoolgirl meeting with her murderer in the forest of extinction. ‘I no longer feel pain,’ she says. In a third strand Yurika Sakaira recounts an unrequited relationship and unintended suicide, where figures meet ‘at the desperate border/Between life and death.’ ‘Having lost my body,’ Shimazu’s voice says from the darkness ‘…I want to share with you…. The fact that such nothingness is/The fundamental nothingness of living.’

Violence, both natural and man-made, permeates the script. The impact of World War Two, 3/11, individual acts of murder and terrorist activities of 1995 all haunt this intimate performance, as do the human figures reduced to shadows unable to fade away following the dropping of the bomb at Hiroshima. ‘They say it no longer has a human form,’ Yojiro says in the opening speech,  ‘it is a weakness more frightening than an act of murder.’

A fourth figure appears on stage, Takuzo Kubikuri, whose silent presence undulating between the separate sections acts as a dramaturgical thread, drawing all together. He sways, like the wind through corn, or a boatman crossing water, and as he weaves through space it becomes apparent he is Sanzu-no-kawa – the Buddhist equivalent of the boatman on the River Styx.

This is serious work, with serious intent, and in Mari Boyd’s fine translation, despite the heft of its subject matter it is not depressing, but offers the possibility of redemption.

The production is sumptuous in its starkness. The dramatic play between light and shadow create stunning visual images, almost mirages, as when Sakaira slowly tilts her head, and the contrast between brilliant light and deep shadow combined with diffused light spilling through the brim of her white hat raises the ghost of a mushroom cloud. Yojiro trained with renowned noh actor Hideo Kanze, and the physical discipline is reflected in the precision and delicacy with which his female actors move.

Like the work of the Japanese playwright Ota Shogo and Samuel Beckett’s late short plays, the work explores a form of Quietude – providing a rich sensorial experience for the audience. In scholar and translator Mari Boyd’s excellent book ‘The Aesthetics of Quietude’, she defines Quietude as passivity in art: By not forcing a meaning or narrative onto the audience, paradoxically the audience is more active imaginatively, invited to participate in the creation of meaning and pleasure.

Here, the slowed down movements of the actors, combined with the silence and stillness in performance opens up an imaginative space for the audience – it is meditative, demanding, and ultimately fulfilling. The atmosphere and focus can create an almost liminal state, where this audience member was balanced on the edge of dreaming.

Towards the end of this intense theatrical experience, Yojiro seeks to create a sense of time when there is no division or individuality – no me, you, I, he, they. In his final monologue, delivered in the audience, the barrier between spectacle and spectator blurs, He sits with us and we all look at the lit bare stage, which takes on more significance than Peter Brooke’s Empty Space. With the evasive imagery of mist, shadow and sand, it is as if we are all on a beach, collectively facing the incoming tide – whether that wave is deadly or benign we are united, witnessing, ready to deal with the future and what may come.

*

Kaite O’Reilly was in Tokyo with The Llanarth Group, on a cultural exchange with Ami Theatre exploring facets of Quietude, supported by Wales Arts International and the Daiwa Foundation.

 

Thunder Gate and Encounters

Kaminari-mon Gate, 'Thunder Gate', Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo.

Kaminari-mon Gate, ‘Thunder Gate’, Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo.

A morning free, so we travel to Senso-ji Temple and bask in the beauty and clouds of incense. Rebuilt many times since its founding in 628, Senso-ji is the oldest temple in Tokyo and dedicated to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy.

IMG_1478

The compound is filled with temples, statues, and Shinto shrines. We walked amongst the predominantly Japanese visitors and worshippers, enjoying the fact this religious sanctuary is in the midst of the former red light and entertainment district, with old theatres lining the streets behind the temple.  I realise after our intense weeks of working at Babylon Theatre there is something else to Tokyo other than a black box studio…. but the theatre is never too far away…

Warm-up in Okamura Yurijo's workshop, Theatre Babylon Tokyo

Warm-up in Okamura Yurijo’s workshop, Theatre Babylon Tokyo

Refreshed, we head for Theatre Babylon and the continuation of the exchange The Llanarth Group have with Tokyo company Ami Theatre. Phillip Zarrilli led a three day workshop last week; now Okamura Yojiro, playwright, actor, and artistic director of Ami Theatre leads some sessions.

Jo Shapland and Rino Nakajima of Ami Theatre

Jo Shapland and Rino Nakajima of Ami Theatre

Okamura Yojiri has developed his own methodology of actor-training, focussing on the pre-performative and pre-expressive. After initial exercises combining speed with extremely slow movement, and emphasis on making eye contact, he creates an arena wherein encounters between two participants take place.

The encounter space prepared by Okamura Yojiro, with Alejandro translating

The encounter space prepared by Okamura Yojiro, with Alejandro translating

The encounter is in silence – two participants at diagonal corners approach each other slowly, maintaining eye contact throughout, then passing by. I deliberately over-simplify the instructions here, for what can be an intense and imaginatively rich experience is difficult to reflect in reportage.  The intention is to enter the space without prejudice and preconceptions, to follow instructions and be alert to the changing dynamics and images each moment of the way.

Some local performers and Professor Mari Boyd’s students from Sophia University also participate and find the work engaging and engrossing. I’m impressed with their commitment to the exercises and how articulate they are in feeding back after their encounter.

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The Llanarth Group travelled to Tokyo thanks to Wales Arts International and The Daiwa Foundation,

Night Flight to Tokyo: aesthetics of quietude

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.

The Llanarth Group’s Told by the Wind – Huddersfield and Tokyo Oct/Nov 2013.

They are not cities I would usually put together… Huddersfield and Tokyo… but that’s where Jo Shapland, Phillip Zarrilli and I are off to next week, on tour with The Llanarth Group’s Told by the Wind.

Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli in The Llanarth Group's 'Told by the Wind'

Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli in The Llanarth Group’s ‘Told by the Wind’

The production in Huddersfield is performed as part of Being Here: Psychophysical Performance as Mindfulness Practice – a four day event at the University of Huddersfield.

LAWRENCE BATLEY THEATRE

Huddersfield (Box office: 01484 430528) presents: TOLD BY THE WIND

(The Llanarth Group)

Monday 28 – Tuesday 29 October

Performance at: University Of Huddersfield: 8.00pm / Tuesday early show 6.00pm

Tickets:  £12 / concessions £10 / student £6 – to book tickets please contact miltonboxoffice@hud.ac.uk

We then fly to Tokyo at the end of the month, showing the work at Babylon Theatre, Tokyo, and commencing what I’m sure will be a fascinating cultural exchange with Ami Theatre, a Japanese company working with Noh. I’ll be blogging about the experience here and writing an essay for New Welsh Review on our return.

 

‘TOLD BY THE WIND is easily the most hypnotic piece of theatre I have experienced’   BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE

 ‘fragments of ­memory, speech and gestures, ­composed in moments that have a haunting, painterly beauty… hypnotic…with… the astringent purity of a haiku poem…quietly cleansing…’ [GUARDIAN 4*]

TOLD BY THE WIND tours to Tokyo Theatre Babylon immediately following with Huddersfield performances as part of an exchange between Phillip Zarrilli (Artistic Director, The Llanarth Group) and Okamura Yojiro (Artistic Director, AMI Theatre, Tokyo) toward a future collaborative production. 

Told by the Wind – Tokyo tour and Huddersfield 28 – 29 October 2013.

Told by the Wind. Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli of The llanarth Group.

Told by the Wind. Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli of The llanarth Group.

Back in the rehearsal studio today for a two day initial re-rehearsal of Told by the Wind, a piece I co-created with Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli with The Llanarth Group originally in 2010. Since then, the performance has toured to Portugal and the US, Germany and Poland. It’s always fascinating to return to a piece, especially one using aesthetics of Quietude, as this does. There is minimal voiced text, so there is so much inner work required to recapture the piece. Each time it seems to grow and deepen and I’m looking forward to putting it up in Huddersfield in late October, prior to our Japanese tour in November 2013.

The forthcoming tour to Tokyo is an exchange, interaction and collaboration between The Llanarth Group and Okamura Yojiro, Artistic Director of AMI Theatre Company, Tokyo, Japan, and members of their two companies. The exchange/interaction will include performances of The Llanarth Group’sTold by the Wind, performance of a new play by Okamura Yojiro, workshop exchanges, and planning toward a collaborative production in 2014 between the two companies. The year-long exchange/collaborative process is part of a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Japan-British relations.

Three performances of Told by the Wind will take place in Huddersfield 28 and 29 October 2013, prior to travelling to Tokyo.

http://www.digyorkshire.com/EventListing.aspx?event=73068&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1#.UioigOBFu0s

This intimate and meditative performance is a requiem for the unseen; a poignant duet across time between two figures who never physically meet…

TBTW is an exceptional opportunity to experience the work of Philip Zarilli – internationally known for actor training through Asian martial and meditative arts.

The production is performed as part of Being Here: Psychophysical Performance as Mindfulness Practice – a four day event at the University of Huddersfield.

Mon 28 October 2013, Time: 20:00 

Tues 29 October 2013. Time: 18:00 and 20:00

Lawrence Batley Theatre

Queen’s Square Queen Street 
Huddersfield HD1 2SP 
01484 430528 
theatre@thelbt.orgwww.thelbt.org

Auditorium: University Of Huddersfield Milton Building

Prices: £12 / concessions £10 / students £6