TACT promises a globe-trotting Golden Week glow for all ages

by Nobuko Tanaka

Special To The Japan Times

“Baaa, baaa, ba-aaa” — many Tokyoites sheepishly making their way from JR Ikebukuro Station to their workplaces or the shops stopped in their tracks when they heard a strange bleating coming from the open-plan plaza basement of Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre by West Gate Park in this seriously nonrural district.

Then, upon searching out the source of those bucolic sounds, a remarkable sight entered their field of vision: Would ewe believe it, but white and black sheep were contentedly grazing just like sources of wool and lamb chops do on farms the world over.

Here, despite occupying an AstroTurflike patch distinctly less expansive than Patagonia’s pastures, the amenable ruminants appeared at ease in their simple wooden enclosure where they’d sometimes play together between communicating calmly in baa-language with each other and the visitors who’d flocked to see them.

Actually, though, these weren’t real specimens of Ovis aries being looked after by shepherd David Danzon, but actors appearing four years ago in “Les Moutons (Sheep),” a mind-expanding and innovative work by the Canadian physical-theater company Corpus.

Now, to ram home their message in Japan, Corpus are all set for their fourth visit to TACT — the Theater Arts for Children and Teens festival — an annual event started in the Abeno district of Osaka City in 2007, since when it has been held in Niigata City, Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture, Otsu in Shiga Prefecture — and Ikebukuro. This year, when TACT Festival 2014 revisits Ikebukuro, it will be delighting the child in all-comers through the May 3-11 Golden Week holiday period.

Besides “Les Moutons” again grazing and greeting in the same plaza, among the four other programs set to lure folk into the theater fold is another from Corpus titled “Nuit Blanche (White Night).” To be staged in one of the two studios at Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre (TMT), this critically acclaimed piece treats audiences to a dreamlike hour’s performance in which six dancers in white pajamas portray, with heaps of humor, a bizarrely semi-comatose world they appear to inhabit.

Meanwhile, TMT’s main Playhouse auditorium will host “Hans was Heiri” — literally, “John Like Henry” — a 2012 work from the Swiss duo of Martin Zimmermann and Dimitri de Perrot, whose wittily philosophical creations are regarded as classics in Europe. Indeed, the great Russian ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov once said of this Zurich-based pair, “They offer the whole package; extraordinary design concepts and brilliant performances — they are real innovators.”

In this magically creative piece performed by a cast of physical dancers and circus artists, the open-sided houselike set tilts, goes up and down and also whirls around as the cast members vainly try to keep their cool before finally accepting they have to help each other just to stay aboard. As Zimmermann and Perrot put it, their aim here is “to show how humans are surprisingly similar fundamentally.”

Also being staged in the Playhouse is “L’Immediat (Immediate)” by Company L’Immediat, an energetic piece that won the prestigious Dordogne International Mime Festival in France in 2010.

Currently one of the hottest French artists, the company’s choreographer and director, Camille Boitel, was scraping a living as a street performer in Paris when he was discovered by James Thierree, a renowned circus artist and director whose grandfather was Charlie Chaplin.

With this production, Thierree creates a mesmerizing show in which chaos continually threatens as he and six others sometimes hilariously move around, leap, dive and dance amid the huge tumbling pile of bric-a-brac they inhabit.

Finally rounding off TACT’s playlist this time is B-Floor Theater, a globe-trotting company from Thailand famed for their cutting-edge visual effects and sheer physicality. They will present “The Adventure of Yoo Dee,” their new 30-minute program created for kids in the Tohoku region of northeastern Honshu, where the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami led to Fukushima’s ongoing nuclear disaster.

Directly after its world premiere in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, audiences at one of TMT’s studio theaters will also be treated to this work featuring puppets and live music in which an unfortunate girl named Yoo Dee sets off on a journey with some dear friends one day, only to become lost with only her faith in the future to sustain her.

Together with workshops at the same venue, including making elephant charms and singing Thai children’s songs, it seems certain that TACT will bring glows of delight to any number those — young or not so young — who attend its Golden Week festivities.

“TACT Festival 2014″ runs May 3-11 at Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre outside JR Ikebukuro Station. For details, call 0570-010-296 or visit www.geigeki.jp/t/.