Tag Archives: Jo Shapland

TOLD BY THE WIND – when performance is ‘quiet’

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

Jo Shapland, Phillip Zarrilli and I first collaborated on ‘Told by the Wind’ in 2010. Fascinated by Japanese aesthetics such as Quietude, and intrigued by what we might co-create together, we embarked on a project which is now in its sixth year. An intimate two-hander, the production has been presented all over the world, from Chicago to Tokyo, Berlin to Wroclaw, and now returns to the UK for a short tour 9 – 17 October, at venues, below.

I am immensely fond of ‘Told’, but I have never lost my sense of curiosity about this unusual and ‘hypnotic’ piece. It seems to create a ‘time out of time’, and the reviews of the production over the years have been remarkable, and evocative, often referring to the poetic and meditative impact of the work.

It is also a fascinating process to return to an ‘old’ performance to re-stage it. The connections seem to be deeper and the work more mature. It is a privilege to observe Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli reassemble the piece, and support them as ‘the outside eye’. At 52 minutes long, the performance only has 10 minutes of dialogue, the rest taken up with their delicate and precise movement work and Jo’s dance and choreography.

Phillip has recently written a feature for Wales Arts Review ‘Beneath the Surface of Told by the Wind’ and Joanna an ‘In My Own Words’ for Art Scene in Wales. Both are fascinating insights into process and influence, and well worth a look.

…at a threshold…two figures…two lives…multiple time spaces…

 TOLD BY THE WIND ‘dances’ an inner landscape. Interweaving movement, dance, lyrical text, and silence, Told invites the audience to enter this imaginative place of possibilities where two figures and two lives are always poised at a threshold…

UK PRESS:

“…hypotic…a haunting, painterly beauty…[with] the astringent purity of a haiku poem…intense meditation in movement…the performers have a remarkable presence…”  **** THE GUARDIAN

“…perfection in movement, text, staging…a beautifully contemplative sixty minutes…”    BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE

INTERNATIONAL PRESS:

“…minimal…mesmerizing…evokes both later T.S. Eliot and haiku…parallels…the work of Merce Cunningham…two memorable live performers…” SEE CHICAGO DANCE

“…Beckettian magnetic poetry…all dropped like shapeless stones into a moonlit lake of silence…Each dances the other’s absence. Both are beautiful movers…” CHICAGO TIME OUT

 Video Trailer: https://vimeo.com/170952365

The Llanarth Group

TOLD BY THE WIND

Co-created by: Kaite O’Reilly, Jo Shapland, Phillip Zarrilli
Lighting Design by: Ace McCarron
Performers: Jo Shapland, Phillip Zarrilli

Dramaturg: Kaite O’Reilly
Venues:

SMALL WORLD THEATRE (Cardigan)
Sunday 09 October, 3pm
Online: http://www.smallworld.org.uk/
Telephone: 01239 615952
Tickets: £6 (preview)

 

CHAPTER ARTS CENTRE (Cardiff)
Wed & Thurs 12th -13th October, 7:30pm
Online: http://www.chapter.org
Telephone: 0290 20304400

 

EXETER NORTHCOTT THEATRE
Monday 17 October, 7:30pm
Online: http://exeternorthcott.co.uk
Telephone: 01392 726363
Tickets: £8-£15
Age guidance: 15+

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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note: If any advertisement appears on any of my blog posts, please know this is not at my instigation or with my consent, but beyond my control, enforced by wordpress.

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. 

In praise of multi-tasking collaboration

Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli in rehearsals, Told by the Wind. The Llanarth Group, 2011.

Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli in rehearsals, Told by the Wind. The Llanarth Group, 2010.

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Increasingly I believe we have to be producer, fund-raiser, tour manager, and publicist as well as whatever our prime role may be (writer, director, performer, etc), in order to have some form of career. I am a playwright and dramaturg, yet some of the more successful projects I’ve been involved with, with real longevity, have been as co-creator with The Llanarth Group, in West Wales. There, I am officially the resident dramaturg, but also maker of good, strong tea, writer of performance text alongside press releases, ‘outside eye’ when necessary, documenter, publicist, and doer of whatever may need doing, frankly. And I love it. I love the new skills it brings to me, and the reawakening of old ones. I love the lack of hierarchy, but rather, the sense of cooperation and collaboration.

Working in this way is demanding, but also puts the artist very much in control. I’m often out of my element when I work with more conventional companies, or building-based theatres, where everyone has their particular role and task. I probably drive everyone demented for the first few days until I adjust to the culture of the company, and realise certain things may be considered inappropriate for me to do – ie, shut up and sit down, O’Reilly, they have a director or marketing department or stage manager to do ‘that’…

I feel immensely fortunate to have worked in both self-generated cooperative dynamics, as well as with theatre organisations, and am increasingly aware of the different skills set and cultures needed for each. Also, with the ever-depressing news of cuts in the arts, I’m aware so much more activity in future really may be this DIY version – so the sooner we get skilled-up for being Renaissance women and men, the better.

This all came to my mind when I came across an extract of ‘Told By the Wind’, a piece I made with Phillip Zarrilli and Jo Shapland, on Vimeo. Filmed in the inner sanctum of the Grotowski Institute in Wroclaw, Poland – The Apocalypsis Room (‘more the altar than a theatre space,’ as one of the resident technicians said). We performed there in 2011, to a huge audience squeezed in around the floor stage lights (‘I’m so sorry, you’ll have to move. If you sit there, right in front of the lantern, we won’t see the performers,’ I had to say on more than one occasion. I added more skills on this tour; usher and bouncer).

This short performance, informed by Japanese aesthetics of Quietude, is still in the repertory and still touring internationally. I’m not sure how I missed it before now on the net, but hope you may enjoy Jo Shapland’s terrific solo of the devised section we called ‘verb dance’.

http://vimeo.com/20741448