Mystical Abyss, ODC Theater, September 27

9 Oct

The creation myths of the Iroquois Indians and ancient Japan provided the meat of Mystical Abyss, the theater dance premiered September 27 at  ODC Theatre, San Francisco, Yuriko Doi directing the play written by John O’Keefe.  Theatre of Yugen, Yuriko Doi’s theatrical offspring, was the sponsor, with assistance from the U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network (CTN) and the San Francisco International Arts Festival [SFIAF].

Despite many magical qualities, I found myself wishing the production could be transformed into space like Lawrence Olivier in the movie version of Shakespeare’s  Henry V.  Certainly the animation by Taketo Kobayashi and Koya Takahashi  provoked this desire to see space float,  us viewers staring up trying to identify the transcendent figures. The music by Narumi Takazawa and Kenny Perkins, directed by the former, enhanced the feeling with choreography provided by Noh master Shiro Nomura and Jesus Jacob  Cortes; Cortes also figured as  three principal male characters, Izanagi, Sky Woman’s Husband and Susanno.  Shiro Nomura also provided the impressive Utai.

The set, Renta Kouchi designer, was sparse white cloth stretched vertically with entrances and exits facilitated by raising or lowering white cloth in Noh/Kyogen and Kabuki curtain style.  To see the Noh-like figure or the more naturalistic movers emerge from under the abrupt ride of the curtain intensified the pauses or situations.  the Lighting design by Stephen Siegel  was realized by Frederic Boulay; the stage manager was Meghann Dubie.

In both myths there is a couple with imminent or actual childbirth before the woman is separated from her spouse.

Down ODC’s middle aisle Lluis Valls crawled on all fours, required by his turtle back.  In any language, this sea-earth creature speaks to almost any creation myth, Indian, Japanese, Hebrew, Hindu.  In Iroquois tradition, the heavens contained a tree, birds flew below the clouds and there was a domain containing Sky Woman, Janelle Ayon.  Sky Woman becomes pregnant, and her husband, a powerful chief, dreams of an abyss in the sky country, into which he thrusts his wife.

Fire Dragon gives Sky Woman seeds, leads her to the spirit world of Yominokuni while telling her about Izanami, a goddess who also is pregnant, danced by Masashi Nomura.  Here Ayon’s naturalistic,  folkloric movement  directly contrasted the formality of Nomura’s Noh movement patterns.

Fire Dragon explains that Izanami and Izanagi, her husband, had created a myriad of gods before the birth of the fire god, whose arrival disfigured Izanami, causing her withdrawal into the dark spirit world.  In Izanagi’s journey to reclaim Izanami where she hides with her disfigurement, the myths of Orpheus and Persephone, the wanting to see, the partaking of nourishment are strong parallels.

Sky Woman sees Izanagi as beautiful regardless of disfigurement and her threats against humanity, paving the way to the creation of Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess and Tsukuyomi, the Moon Goddess plus Susanno, the Storm God.

Sky Woman leaves the Japanese underworld to continue her fall, with brief support from the birds and water animals and Fish Hawk;  through the mud provided by the Otter spread on the back of Turtle, land finally emerges and Sky Woman has found a home . There she bears a daughter and is visited by Amaterasu.  Storm God Susanno appears, wrecking havoc, killing  Sky Woman, though her daughter survives.  His willfulness drives Amaterasu into a cave.

Without sunlight, the world is depressed. It takes the daughter of a medicine man, Ayon,  to propose a slightly risque, ecstatic dance to lure Amaterasu from her cave out of curiosity, and light returns.  She moves towards the mount where Sky Woman is buried with seeds scattered. There a small tree is found, a white pine, the Tree of Peace.  The Turtle returns to circle the stage;  the sacred cycle of light and darkness continues.

Risa Lenore Latimore Dye created evocative costumes for the symbolic creatures – Turtle, Sky Hawk/Fire Dragon, Otter Woman augmented by masks created by Hideta Kitazawa, following the grand tradition of Noh. Yoshio Ueno provided the Noh percussion.

In multiple roles Cuauhtemoc Peranda appeared as Fire Dragon and Fish Hawk and Jesus Jacob Cortes as Izanagi, Susanno, Sky Woman’s Husband and Man, Jubilith Moore as Otter Woman, Val  Fuatino Alefosio doubling as Fish Hawk and musician.

While the Iroquois myth was new to me, the Izanagi, Izanami, Amaterasu, Susanno stories have long fascinated me; edited out of an Asian oriented essay written long ago for Impulse Magazine. Doi’s use vindicated the collective relevance glimpsed long ago, though Doi’s use of Susanno differs from the original myth.

I would like to have seen the third performance when the players would have reached their stride. On opening night there was a tad nervousness, but the understanding and grandeur was clear. Lluis Valls and Masashi Nomura were particularly commanding in their roles. There is a possibility repetition may be sponsored at a later date.

For those of us remaining for the reception following the opening, we witnessed several special moments.  Jubilith Moore,  now artistic director of Theatre of Yugen, spoke to Yuriko Doi’s direction, expressing the hope  this was not Doi’s last undertaking with Yugen. Following Yuriko’s comments, Jubilith announced the wish to memorialize Doi’s creation of the organization’ Yuriko’s contribution to cross-cultural understanding is to be a traditional fan commissioned by an artist based in Hawaii.

It is hard to convey the quality of reception but the ambiance made me feel we had the gods and the myths in ODC’s foyer and their blessing.

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