Stage

Under new management: Festival/Tokyo focuses on diversity in a quest for 'border play'

by Mika Eglinton

Special To The Japan Times

Under its new 65-year-old director, Sachio Ichimura, who replaced respected 39-year-old Chiaki Soma in a shock move in March, Festival/Tokyo 2014 adopted “border play” as its catchphrase.

Running through November in and around Ikebukuro, Japan’s biggest annual performing-arts event comprised 30 theater, dance and film works, a symposium and talks — in all of which “diversity” was Ichimura’s declared aim.

First up was Festival Fukushima!, an event led by Otomo Yoshihide, Michiro Endo and Ryoichi Wago that began with visitors to Ikebukuro’s Nishiguchi Park being covered with furoshiki (traditional Japanese wrapping cloth) and invited to take part in Bon dances in honor of the ancestors, and to listen to music and poetry — all with Japan’s natural and nuclear disasters in March 2011 in mind.

That festival within F/T then closed with two plays by drama veteran Seigo Hatasawa, a high-school teacher from Aomori Prefecture in Honshu’s disaster-stricken north.

Performed in a redundant primary school by Hatasawa’s students and members of his drama troupe, “Farewell to Nuclear Robot Mutsu: Soldiers of Love” was a satirical sci-fi piece about the mayor of an Aomori town who tries to outlive the radioactive lifespan of nuclear waste dumped in his area; while “Moshi-ita” — which his students have staged since 2012 for disaster victims living in shelters — told of an underdog high-school baseball team who scoop a national title with the help of a traditional Aomori spirit-woman known as Itako who brings back a legendary pitcher from the dead.

Among other F/T works by younger Japanese dramatists alongside ones from the icons Peter Brook, 89, and Yukio Ninagawa, 79, was a version of “The Cherry Orchard” by the playwright, dancer and choreographer Mikuni Yanaihara, 43. She transferred Anton Chekov’s final work to a contemporary Japanese setting in which the owners of an old tree, local-development bureaucrats and Green Party members opposed to its removal all engaged in a heated dispute — a dispute that failed to reach a conclusion.

Another impressive work with its roots in Russia was a rendition of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” by the rising director and choreographer Momoko Shiraga, 32, who is known for mixing humor and movement. Here, she had three female artists tackle themes of primitive rites and rebirth through virgin sacrifice in a metaphorical post-March 2011 or post-human world — all performed to music and sound effects by Yasuno Miyauchi on a Yuko Mohri-designed stage cluttered with everyday objects.

Meanwhile, Chinese director Chong Wang, 32, staged a multimedia performance based on Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghosts.” Using what he calls “stage movies” — filming, editing and projecting onstage action in real time — Wang aimed to critique the Norwegian writer’s syphilis-cursed family tragedy from a modern Chinese perspective of upstart money taking over from tradition.

With South Korean dawon pieces (which combine theater, dance, artwork and video) rounding out its new Asia Series this year, and works from Myanmar and Malaysia slated for 2015 and 2016, respectively, it’s to be hoped F/T will cross many more borders both artistic and international as it strives to further what had been its steadily growing global standing.

For more on F/T, visit www.festival-tokyo.jp.