Musicians, two screens and a poet recapture Stravinsky’s spirit in ‘Sanka’s Winter Ritual’


Special To The Japan Times

The avant-garde scene in Kyoto has a unique challenge, being based in a city where tradition is synonymous with local identity.

There are a few elements challenging the status quo, though, such as Urbanguild in the Nakagyo district. Over the past 18 months, this intimate performance venue has hosted an eclectic and multinational mix of musicians, video artists and a poet, who are collectively reinterpreting Igor Stravinsky’s iconoclastic “The Rite of Spring” in a production titled “Sanka’s Winter Ritual.”

The ensemble calls itself Enso Watt and was assembled by Frenchman Samuel Andre, a multimedia artist based in Kyoto. Invited by Urbanguild in 2013 to put on an event, Andre decided to do something a little different from the outset and wanted to shake up the typical perceptions of a live performance. To help him, he recruited Yannick Paget, a composer and associate conductor with the Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.

Since the group’s first show in 2013 coincided with the centenary year of “The Rite of Spring,” Paget wanted to draw on that piece’s age-old themes of sacrifice and the power of nature for his interpretation.

“The Rite of Spring was very revolutionary when it was performed over a hundred years ago,” Andre says, referring to the riot that resulted after its first performance in Paris in 1913. “We wanted to reference it and to do something new for our time.”

Andre and Paget’s version is a bit of a melee: a meeting of classical, noise, spoken word, experimental and improvised performances. Andre says his main objective was to take the audience out of its “comfort zone.”

This weekend’s show, “Sanka’s Winter Ritual” will mark the group’s third performance (rituals of Summer and Autumn were previously performed). At the heart of these pieces are the Sanka, a semimythological tribe said to have resided in the mountains surrounding Kyoto during the Edo Period (1603-1867). If the Sanka parallel the pagan tribe in Stravinsky’s original, it will not end well: One girl, the “chosen one,” is forced into an unstoppable vortex — a dance to her death.

As with the previous two performances, Enso Watt will be joined by Tokyo-based poet and lyricist Chris Mosdell. Mosdell will read poetry between Yannick’s compositions, which are, in turn, composed from his poems.

“There is very little information about (the Sanka) and thus this gives me a lot of liberal and lateral poetic license,” Mosdell says.

The musicians will be scattered throughout the venue during the performance, something Andre says should immerse the audience in a “landscape of sound, both tribal and shamanic.”

Just don’t expect the riots that greeted Stravinsky’s original to be repeated. Not in this polite, pretty city anyway.

Enso Watt performs “Sanka’s Winter Ritual” at Urbanguild in Kyoto on Jan. 25 (8 p.m. start; ¥2,000 in advance; 075-212-1125). For more information, visit or