Tag Archives: Japan

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.

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,

Tokyo Storm Warning

When Takayuki Kako, the stage manager of Babylon Theatre Tokyo asked us what our preferred procedure would be if there was an earthquake during one of The Llanarth Group’s performances, I knew I was a long way from Ceredigion.

'Told by the wind' get-in

‘Told by the wind’ get-in

Our safety was his priority, he told us, but tremors were frequent. Would it be best if he stopped the show if he thought any potential quake was dangerous, to lead us and the audience to safety? Yes please, I said, explaining that although I was running the show, I had limited experience of earthquakes and so might not be the best person to lead an evacuation, especially as I don’t speak Japanese.

Phillip Zarrilli and Jo Shapland leading a session in T'ai chi

Phillip Zarrilli and Jo Shapland leading a session in T’ai chi

We are here in Tokyo on a cultural exchange with Ami Theatre, sharing a repertoire of work at Babylon Theatre and exchanging approaches to training and performance work. It has been a week of intense exchanges – workshops with Ami and students of Sophia University, the get-in, dress rehearsal, and the Tokyo premiere of ‘Told by the Wind’. Throughout, we have been dealing with jet lag, never quite getting into the local timezone as our work has been in the evening.

Structured improvisation led by Phillip Zarrilli, Theatre Babylon Tokyo

Structured improvisation led by Phillip Zarrilli, Theatre Babylon Tokyo

At night when I fall into bed, my tiredness dissipates into a whirling brain matching the speed of the spin driers in the 24 hour laundry room directly below me. For some inexplicable reason the opening lines of Elvis Costello’s ‘Tokyo Storm Warning’ – which I haven’t heard for twenty years – plays on loop in my head.

The sky fell over cheap Korean monster-movie scenery
And spilled into the mezzanine of the crushed capsule hotel
Between the Disney abattoir and the chemical refinery
I knew I was in trouble but I thought I was in hell
So you look around the tiny room and you wonder where the hell you are

Joanna and O'Reilly backstage at Babylon Theatre Tokyo

Joanna and O’Reilly backstage at Babylon Theatre Tokyo

I’m happy to say my own experience has been infinitely better than that in Costello’s lyrics.  We aren’t in the centre of the metropolis, but in a quiet neighbourhood in the north of the city, passing the Shinto shrines and the temple on our daily journey between our capsule hotel and Theatre Babylon.

Temple close to Theatre Babylon Tokyo

Temple close to Theatre Babylon Tokyo

Yesterday, on a short break before the dress rehearsal, I wandered down to the temple and stood in the calm, breathing, marvelling that such peace could be found in such a large city. Around the small back lanes people glided by on bicycles and a company of fat, contented cats lazed in the sudden sunshine. I marvelled also about the people we are working with – the staff at Babylon and Theatre Ami are so generous, kind, and talented. We all feel immensely fortunate to be here in this collaboration.

Wall in cafe near to theatre

Wall in cafe near to theatre

It has been great working so closely with scholar and translator Mari Boyd here in Japan. She was an artistic advisor on ‘Told’ in its final rehearsals and was with us for the premiere in Chapter arts centre in Cardiff in 2010. Bringing us here was at her instigation, as she felt this piece, with its influences of Noh theatre and Quietude, would be fascinating to present here  – for us from outside the culture, and for audiences and academics within.

The responses to the work have been extraordinary, the audiences attentive and appreciative, but that will be content for a different blog.

Mari Boyd and Jo Shapland in the auditorium during tech rehearsal

Mari Boyd and Jo Shapland in the auditorium during tech rehearsal

And then suddenly the horrendous typhoon devastated the Philippines – and the weather warnings went up, as the storm seemed to be heading our way. After two successful performances in one day, we headed for bed and the threat of torrential rain and 100mph winds the next day. The Elvis Costello song on loop didn’t seem to be so funny now.
Dim ysmygu

Dim ysmygu

Then at 7.38am I’m lifted from my bed and deposited quite gently onto the floor. I sprawl, feeling everything move beneath me in a calm circling motion. It is not unpleasant – similar, I imagine, to a bird riding a thermal – and just as I am beginning to question whether the earth really should be moving like this, and the building swaying quite so seductively – it stops.
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Not one of the technical team mentioned anything about the quake when we went in for the matinee, but the Japanese Meteorological Society put the tremor at 3-4 on the richter scale, so it was not insignificant. But like our hosts, we just continued, Jo and Phillip performing, me calling the lighting and sound cues, and the audience attending, despite threats of typhoons and possible aftershocks, or any other form of storm warning.
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The Llanarth Group are in Japan thanks to Wales Arts International and the Daiwa Foundation.
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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

A Welsh/Japanese artistic and cultural exchange: Ami Theatre and The Llanarth Group.

Aminadab, performed by Ami Theatre Company, Tokyo.

Aminadab, performed by Ami Theatre Company, Tokyo.

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.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2010/feb/02/told-by-the-wind-review

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.