Two Theater Reviews: We’re Gonna Go Dancing /Aoi tori Aoi Tori Aoi …

Mary-Rose Shand and Matt Perkins come from the UK, currently studying Japanese at the Japan University of Economics in Fukuoka. Recently the pair have attended a handful of interesting local performing arts events in Fukuoka. Read their reviews on two of these events (We’re Gonna Go Dancing, and Aoi tori Aoi Tori Aoi …) below:

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We’re Gonna Go Dancing!
Review by Mary-Rose Shand

On Saturday, March 2, the Japan Contemporary Dance Network (JCDN) held its annual Odori ni Iku-ze! / ”We’re Gonna Go Dancing” festival to the packed IMS concert hall. First launched in 2000, “We’re Gonna Go Dancing” consists of several small groups in a showcase style loosely divided into two categories. Group “A” is focussed on production, and Group “B” is based on a creation by a regional dance group. Even for those with little knowledge of contemporary dance (which includes this spectator!), inventive staging and almost flawless performances made for a diverse and stunning show.

The first section, entitled “Quick” by MuDA G, featured intimidating outfits, a sinister setting and tense background music. Four male dancers, clad head-to-toe in leather, began with an eerie ritualistic routine with rhythmic chanting which then changed to loud and angry clashes as they twisted to the floor, their bodies contorted with pain but still energetic. The dancers changed to leather leggings and the tension heightened when a leather microphone was lowered to the stage as one dancer screamed to the audience. The dancers fought with each other and with the force that seemed to be torturing them, displaying some incredible acrobatics. They repeatedly fell and were thrown around the stage, their bodies distorted and twisted. The piece ended on a slightly softer note (accompanied with a relieved chuckle from the audience to break the tension!) when each performer stripped off to nothing but a white thong.

The second piece, entitled “House the Homeless”, by contrast was slow and steady, but with the same remarkable ability to maintain an atmosphere. Costumes were, again, highly effective; one pair of performers wearing pyjamas were childlike and curious, as they scuffled, played and investigated the space around them, becoming fascinated but increasingly fearful of what is was that they saw. A track-suited lady appeared troubled, too, as she appeared to lose her possessions and ran about in search of something. A well-dressed couple performed gracefully but their movements were peppered with anger. They were separated by flashes of disagreement before re-joining in a fluid routine.

The third piece, “Fragile World”, featured four dancers dressed alternately in white and black using low tables as props. One actor performed skilful solo dances as another drummed out a complex rhythm. One member at a time acted as if performing at an audition. The final dancer was clearly rejected, her anger represented by more acrobatics as she threw herself at her superiors. Then a voice started rhythmically announcing words at random – “family… television…cat… coat” – and as more voices were layered over each other, the rejected girl seemed unable to control her body. The piece ended with an energetic and uniform routine on the table tops – again, the simple yet dramatic costumes and innovative use of sound made it a very intense performance.

The fourth and final performance was, however, the most unique. Two dancers were curled on the floor as an enormous sheet was placed over them. Garbage and empty cans littered the stage and the edgy sounds of the deserted underground were played – water dripped and litter rustled. They rose slowly, still tangled in the sheet, which was eventually raised to the roof as it formed a tent. One dancer tried to frantically tidy-up whilst the other remained entirely trapped, but gracefully creating twisted shadows on the walls of the tent – another eerie, atmospheric and unusual performance.

The JCDN put on a fantastic set of performances. From their innovative use of props and music to the consistently absorbing changes in atmosphere, and, of course, a very talented group of dancers, the JCDN provided a varied, surprising and endlessly entertaining evening.

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Festival Information
‘We’re Gonna Go Dancing!!’ is a lively festival which has been running every year since 2000. It was reborn in 2009 with a new emphasis on producing new work and reenergizing the performing arts across Japan. The 2013 festival was held on March 2 (Sat.), containing four pieces. ‘House the Homeless’ directed by Kamiiketakuya and ‘MuDA G’ by the Kyoto based prize winning group ‘QUICK’ are both original collaborations by artists working together for the first time. QUICK’s prize winning shows involve an interdisciplinary use of dance, multimedia and martial arts and their latest piece is themed around nuclear fission, life, death and the universe. ‘Fragile World’, a piece about darkness in modern society, was created by bringing established choreographer Kakuya Ohashi to a local city to live and work with local artists. Selected by a panel of judges, the final, jazzy piece ‘I’m another you’, presented by a Fukuoka based group called ‘In Lake ch’ promises ‘one chair, one table and 16 limbs’. Official website: http://odori2.jcdn.org/3/schedule/fukuoka.html

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Aoi tori Aoi Tori Aoi … Based on Maurice Maeterlinck’s Bluebird, Directed by Erika Yamada, Performed by Space GIGA Theatre Company
Review by Matt Perkins

The walls in the backroom Theatre Okunchi in the criss-cross of streets near Takamia Station had been transformed into a collage of clocks, little doors, and kitchen implements, a nonsense of stuff that felt like it held clues to what was coming but refused to give straight answers. It was unexpected, due to Bluebird’s popularity as a children’s book, to be greeted by a busty woman with a husky voice fingering a leather whip. Wearing a dress she teased up to show her legs, draping one over another with a bossy flash of her dark eyes, she read from the book on her knees in a narrator’s animated tones. A cuter girl with a super polite manner done up in the white and pink clothes worn by Daimyo cos-players or characters from Final Fantasy, personally showed us to our seats. In spite of all this attention making us feel like guests, we had no idea of what we were getting ourselves in for when the narrator locked the door. Was this a kid’s show about a Bluebird or something more ‘adult’? The girl in pink and white soon had a collar snapped to her neck by the hefty lipstick smacking Madame and fell to her knees, yapping now and again like a dog. The blowing-up of the small and the shrinking of the big which characterized the play allowed the production to move between sentimentalizing childhood and thinking about its more troubling sides. Children have their private animal and dressing up games but so do adults. The play was unafraid to make bold connections.


Method in the madness? Flyer image for Aoi Tori Aoi Tori

Like the best horror films and the most potent kinds of seduction, Aoi Tori left much to the viewer’s imagination. Director Erika Yamada believes that people don’t often think about their bodies and this play refused to let you sit there like a couch potato. At the opening, the lights were turned off so you felt the awkwardness of rubbing shoulders with your neighbours and the uncomfortable sense of the room getting warmer, full of second hand air. Throughout the play, the audience were implored by characters directly to think of the scenes, to remember something from earlier on or to search for the bluebird themselves. With elementary Japanese I only understood snatches of the text read aloud. Letting the audience conjure up their own world together seems a nod to author Maurice Maeterlinck’s original text which was written to be meditated upon rather than performed. Erika Yamada rose to the challenge of performing an unstagable play but was happy to drag Maeterlinck’s text around at will into the realm of the absurd, to throw in songs and improvisations and collage with the body of his text. The lighting changed snappily. One moment, a U.V bulb completely transformed the space and we could see that bird shapes had been stencilled all over the room. At another moment the room was suddenly illuminated by the house lights, the cast marching around with party hats, playing musical instruments, singing and stomping before the lights were cut again and we were back in the dark.

The play, broadly about two children’s search for happiness, never turned away from the nonsense of it all. Erika Yamada hoped that the experience would feel like passing through a series of completely different worlds. The narrator wore a string of large black globes around her neck. The shifts from cartoon to cartoon made the play feel like a cross between a vivid dream and channel hopping. One of the most memorable worlds had the narrator in a different guise, scary novelty glasses and a fake beard, crossly taking oodles of food out of a picnic bag before starting in on a whole pack of chicken legs. One by one, other characters were asked to join in, as were members of the audience. Erika Yamada seems to take full advantage of the close spaces she holds her plays. We were each given a lollipop and ask to remember our childhood. We were told never to forget the things we had learnt together. Audience participation is not a gimmick to Erika Yamada, it is central to her vision of a more thoughtful kind of theatre, one where audience members too have to work hard and have to respond physically to what’s going on.

Intimate and mad, watching this play felt like thumbing through a scrapbook with all its incompleteness, nostalgia and restlessness. At times it was bravely noisy, scrappy and unfinished but Space GIGA Theatre Company demand that their audiences join them in working it all out and insist on your leaving the theatre transformed.

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About Space GIGA
Space GIGA Theatre Troupe has been working to inject new life into locations out-of-theatres in Japan. They have performed in public bathrooms, galleries, temple, forests, apartments and streets. The award-winning troupe is active not only in Fukuoka but in Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. Their zany productions have included both adaptations of classic literature and original scripts.

‘Aoi tori Aoi Tori Aoi …’
• 3/19~3/23
• Theatre Okunchi
• Adv.: ¥2,000, Door: ¥2,300 (with reservation), ¥2,800 (without reservation), Student Adv.: ¥1,500, Student Door: ¥2,000 *No pre-school kids are allowed to enter.
• Okusu 2-13-23, Minami-ku, Fukuoka City (7min. walk from Nishitetsu Hirao Station) Google map.
• Tickets: Space GIGA Theatre Troupe or Mega Ticket Artlier
• mail@spacegiga.com
• 080-3999-5858
http://spacegiga.com

Showing times:
• 3/19 (Tue.), 20:00
• 3/20 (Wed.), 15:00/19:00
• 3/21 (Thu.), 20:00
• 3/22 (Fri.), 19:00/21:30
• 3/23 (Sat.), 19:30

Full event information here: http://fukuoka-now.com/event/aoitori-aoitori-aoi-based-on-maurice-maeterlincks-bluebird/

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