At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Theater and Language/Fluctuating Images and Origins

I have been thinking about theater lately.   It's been a while since I've created anything or saw anything, to be honest.  That makes me sad.  I originally came to Japan with the intention of studying Japanese performing arts in my spare time and while I did study Yaeyama Dance/Buyo when I lived on Ishigaki, I haven't had any time or opportunities to do anything in Okinawa. When I applied to live in Japan as an ALT, I wrote about my interest in Butoh and Kabuki, in the traditional and the experimental companies in Japan.  Little did I know that I'd be living in Okinawa, which is quite far away from where I had expected to be placed.  I originally wanted to see Japanese theater and performance art and dance companies before I moved to Japan because when I lived in NYC this was what made my day/my life.   But since I moved to Japan, I have slowly but surely been boxed into this role of ALT.  I guess that's often end up defining us (especially in Japan where your job is who you are).  I need to fight against this...

Recently I received an email from The Public Theater (NYC) about The Under the Radar Festival and noticed that chelfitsch was listed as one of the companies presenting work.  That's when I I am in Japan with a little bit of Japanese culture and language under my belt and a huge interest in experimental theater/dance/performance art and ironically where it seems to be at right now is NYC.  My friend V., who was a JET and who now lives in NYC, even emailed me to say that Japanese plays and plays about Japan are "in"...but it's not often that I get a chance to discuss them with anyone that I know here, so I'm just going to write about it in this post.

chelfitsch is a theater company (run by Toshiki Okada, a playwright/director) from Tokyo who I am very interested in:

They create theater in a process which interests me and which reflects my belief in the use of the body as a means by which we communicate both arbitrarily and deeply, sometimes simultaneously with the language we are speaking, but more often on a level where spoken language can't go because of its limitations to connect words to expressions of images.  His work also speaks directly about post-post modern Japanese culture (the current milieu).

You can see a part of his work that was presented in NYC (he showed his play 5 Days in March (Japanese title:  三月の5日間) at The Japan Society in 2008.  You can also see how he talks about his process in creating his work.

This one is a clip from ホットペッパー、クーラー、そしてお別れの挨拶 or Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner and the Farewell Speech.   I think this was presented in Lisbon, Portugal.

I'm particularly interested in the limitations of language as I find that I'm constantly coming up against this while trying to understand Japanese.  Japanese language expresses concepts very subtly and intricately, often dancing around the main topic rather than directly addressing it.  On the other hand, English (especially American English) is quite forward and cuts directly at something.  Knowing this I am constantly using body language, movements and gestures to express how I feel and what I think because I cannot figure out the word properly or I want to explain the concept behind the English word that I've used.  I've also misinterpreted a large amount of Japanese body language and expressions of feelings through the body that I have only had a year and 5 months to learn.  Anyways, I've been thinking often about this because my plays that I've created before I  moved here often tried to find a way to express ideas, images, feelings that dwell underneath the surface of the spoken words we use to express ourselves.  I am wondering if a play is on its way about this again in relation to my experiences here...

On another note, somewhat related:  Tonight my friend R. and I spoke about Japanese language and the movement in Okinawa to restore Uchinaaguchi (mainland Okinawan language) which is fast becoming extinct.  She said that identity isn't really static but rather something fluid, so the concept of a pure Okinawan identity isn't honest as it is constantly in flux.  I agree with her, but I also see why people want to save this language because there are things, concepts, ideas within Uchinaguchi which cannot be expressed via Nihongo (Japanese) and that the Okinawan culture is going to lose a bridge to its past.  But I can see also how this could be a political movement tied to the renewal of the language.     I wonder though when a language is lost, what follows next...body language that is only expressed through that particular culture or is it as my friend suggests, something that is always added to, always subtracted from and has never been pure even at the point of origin?

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