Tag Archives: Theatre Babylon Tokyo

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.

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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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