East meets west in Medea (Rokujo)
November 7 to 9 at the Orpheum Annex Theatre, east and west meet dramatically in Yoyoi Theatre Movement’s production of Medea (Rokujo), a full-length adaptation of the Greek tragedy Medea by Euripides that introduces the Japanese noh character Rokujo from Aoi No Uye by Zenchiku Ujinobu.
Using text, puppetry and dance movement, the tragedies of these two women’s lives is interpreted through the lens of Noh Theatre in what promises to be a stimulating and thought-provoking cross-cultural production.
In conversation with Yayoi Hirano
What gave you the idea to mix Greek tragedy and Noh theatre?
These two ancient cultures share similar stories: the story of Medea by Euripides (431BC), and the tale of Rokujo from Genji-Monogatari (Tale of Genji) written 1000 years ago by the female writer Murasaki-shikibu who reappears in the Noh play Aoi No Uye by Zenchiku Ujinobu (1414-1499).
The original impetus came from seeing how similar the two tragedies are in both theme and plot and character. Both works explore the rage, emotions, and revengeful mind and madness of lead female protagonists, Medea and Rokujo, strongly independent and powerful women who have their positions in society threatened through their husbands’ acts of infidelity. Their desperation leads to horrific acts of vengeance.
Do the two forms share commonalities that make them a natural fit.
There are theatrical devices shared by both Noh and classical Greek theatre, namely the use of a Chorus to comment upon the action and the use of masks to focus and project a heightened reality that enables the audience to access narratives that in a naturalistic context might become histrionic or offensive.
The cross-cultural fusing of these two stories and the worlds in which they are played out will lead the company into a diverse series of theatrical explorations that will inform both the use of both movement and text to tell the story. Both the tragedies and the lives of the women will be artistically interpreted through world of Noh theatre, puppetry and dance movement.
This is a major production for your company – what were the main challenges you faced?
The first major challenge has been that of language. The Noh chants notwithstanding, the text could have been entirely in English; however the possibility of incorporating some Japanese alongside the chants was seen as another opportunity to culturally enrich the piece. Beginning with the premise that English is the spoken language of Corinth, Medea – a woman from another country – would speak a different first language – that is, Japanese. That she, at times, chooses to speak a simple, halting English indicates a specific relationship: she dialogues in sympathy with the Chorus, in feigned subservience to Creon and Jason and, on occasion, uses it in bitter irony to Jason. Otherwise she speaks Japanese to her children, the Nurse and to Jason. The gist of these conversations are either very obvious or else made understandable by the English spoken in reply.
As a Japanese artist working in the west, presenting to western audiences, does it change the way you approach Japanese art forms?
Since moving to Canada, I have been trying to find themes with a Japanese heritage. I am now working more with Japanese culture than I was while living in Japan where I worked more with western themes and styles. In Canada by presenting Japanese culture to Canadian audiences I hope to show its uniqueness as well as its similarities.
Why should people come to see this show? And why are you excited about it?
This is the company’s most ambitious project ever, its artistic team and cast members are opening the door to a unique exploration of cross cultural and cross disciplinary collaboration to create an extraordinary presentation unlike anything previously seen in Vancouver.
For Medea, I feel very fortunate to have a enthusiastic and knowledgeable team of volunteers who have helped, including making all the costumes. As well, meeting puppet designer Hitoshi Okamoto right here in Vancouver was a huge gift to Medea.
Past musical collaborations with Sara Buchner and Minoru Yamamoto have proven to be as successful as they have been intriguing. In the company’s production of Sonezaki Shinju, western classical piano was heard alongside Japanese flute, koto, samisen and percussion. Medea will continue this experiment with the addition of a seven-person Chorus that will chant text from the noh play Aoi No Uke. While the text itself will remain largely a mystery to both non-Japanese and Japanese speakers (the text is ancient and few Japanese will directly fathom it), the dark and primal musicality of the chants will provide a tonal score that will have a forceful impact on the dancer’s movements, as well as the audience who will witness these scenes.
What are your plans for future work after Medea?
One project I am thinking is about the woman “Okuni” who started kabuki. Her love story and why kabuki now is only a man’s art. I also want to work on a one woman show. These days I am working mostly on bigger productions, but I would like to explore solo dance works which was my starting point as a dance artist.
Yayoi Theatre Movement Society presents the Premiere of Medea (Rokujo)
November 7 to 9, 8pm
& November 9, 2pm Matinee
(Artist talk after the shows)
Tickets $20 604.739.7760
The Orpheum Annex Theatre
823 Seymour Street – 2nd Floor