Tag Archives: Okamura Yojiro

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.

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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,

Shinto shrines and performance workshops

Shinto shrine

Shinto shrine

There is a Shinto shrine across the road from the capsule apartments where we stay in Tokyo – ancient stone statues of local deities all pocked and weather-worn, topped with cherry red hats and bibs. Fresh flowers, fruit, and an opened plastic bottle of water adorns the altar and the bell clangs often as people pay respects as they pass.

Another Shinto shrine is on the single track road winding through the individual homes and a housing complex near to Babylon Theatre Tokyo, where we work. Each day walking to the theatre is a reminder of how close the ancient, spiritual and sacred is to the surface of this fast, digitalised, ostensibly modern life.

For the past three days Phillip Zarrilli of The Llanarth Group has been leading a workshop in his approach to actor training with Ami theatre, our hosts, and students from Sophia University. It is part of the cultural exchange supported by Daiwa and Wales Arts International between the two companies: we present ‘Told by the Wind’ later this week and then Okamura Yojiro of Ami Theatre will share some of his company’s process with us.

Phillip Zarrilli and Okamura Yojiro, Babylon theatre Tokyo.

Phillip Zarrilli and Okamura Yojiro, Babylon theatre Tokyo.

Zarrilli uses South and East Asian martial arts and yoga to train actors, starting the workshops with breathing exercises focussing on initiation, process, and completion.

The first non-Indian to be honoured with master status in Kalarippayattu, the martial art of Kerala, Zarrilli claims good martial arts practitioners and actors are similar, in having 360 degrees awareness and a sense of everyone in the room. He quotes a Malayalam folk term about the practice: ‘the body becomes all eyes,’  which goes some way to explaining why he uses the training with actors to start initiating this awareness.

His work is all about activation, awareness, the active imagination, and focus – and one of the first of many parallels between West and East approaches to performance appears: he quotes Zeami, the fourteenth century co-creator of Noh Theatre, encouraging the students to take the opportunity to get inside their bodies through the work and not just in their heads. Such training and body awareness allows respite from the ‘squirrel-like minds’ – busy, busy – of the young actor; a wonderful energy, but totally unfocused and a mess. Okamura San listens quietly to the translation, smiles at the mention of Zeami, then nods his head.

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.