In Japanese, there is a saying “geijutsu no aki.” Literally, it means “artistic autumn”; in practice it means autumn is the best time to enjoy the arts, when the weather is pleasant and bright before the hectic and cold yearend. This month — with many foreign dance companies and contemporary performance groups passing through Japan — is an ideal time to escape your routine and voyage into unknown artistic realms.
My own “artistic autumn” has gotten off to a flying start thanks to productions by two French contemporary dance companies that trod the boards at the Setagaya Public Theater (SEPT) in Sangenjyaya over the last two weeks as part of the glittering France Danse 03 festival.
The first of these was “Les applaudissements ne se mangent pas (We Cannot Eat Applause)” by the Lyons-based Maguy Marin company. Here, on a stage ringed by hanging bolts of material in primary colors, four male and four female dancers in regular street clothes seemed to appear and disappear, running, colliding, tumbling, wrestling and writhing. They were totally absorbing in their masterful timing, choreography and athletic grace. The concept, it appeared, intended to say something about confrontation in a competitive world, about self-interest and the transience of power. But however you chose to interpret it, this was a dance feast for the senses.
The second production I saw at SEPT was one of the best I’ve been to this year, and one of the most original dance productions I’ve seen for far longer. “Neverland” by Compagnie La Maison concerned what it called the universal “mechanism of love,” specifically egoism in love, as it expresses itself through rivalries, jealousy and the urge to control the beloved.
This fraught, tense and enthralling production used all kinds of effects, from innovative sound effects and high-concept video projections with which dancers interacted, to accomplished dance technique and a striking staging. (The stage was surrounded by a metal fence, suggestive of . . . self-imposed restraints? A zoo?)
Remarkably, and beautifully, “Neverland” expressed inner conflicts and dilemmas as clearly as any play might, using thousands and thousands of words.
“Artistic autumn” continues in a multinational vein at SEPT. Next up is a collaborative work from the Canadian-born, Chinese-American artist Pin Chong, who works with Japanese puppet players and contemporary dancer Sawako Iseki. Their “Kaidan Obon (Obon Ghost Story)” uses human-size puppets and projection effects in a three-part piece, two of whose segments are inspired by the stories of Yakumo Koizumi — better known by his original, English name of Lafcadio Hearn.
All this, though, only scratches the surface of this season’s bonanza of multicultural and multinational stagings in Tokyo and beyond. So, why not give yourself a break from routine, just this once? Step into a theater — and discover a whole new world.