In Search of Direction: Mapping, Materiality and Theatre Ecology in Rural Japan

Paper given at the IFTR 2016 Conference at the University of Stockholm, Sweden.


For the past forty-five years, Yukichi Matsumoto and the Osaka-based Ishinha theatre company have been creating site-specific performances that explore the intersection of urban and rural life in Japan. The company’s most recent work, “Twilight” (2015), was devised in Soni Village, Nara Prefecture, on a baseball park found through researching local area maps.

In my interview with Matsumoto, he described the site as “an intriguing place nestled in a mountain range, with breathtakingly beautiful night skies and dramatic shifts in landscape that produce a disorienting feeling.” For Matsumoto, the tension derived from sensory disorientation is a key element in Ishinha’s yagai engeki (lit. outside theatre). “Twilight” approaches this “outsideness” from inside the logic of maps.

Local maps were used as spatial referents for parts of the choreography, but also used as markers of historical, political, poetic and personal memory, represented through words, sounds, light, movement and the surrounding landscape itself. In a scene involving a group of high school students, a local school map was used to orient the performers in relation to “the [imagined] position of classrooms, toilets, the gymnasium and that eerie spot behind it.”

The use of maps as “spectral” overlays on the natural environment at Soni Village produced a relationship between audience and site that could be described as “biocentric.” Baz Kershaw uses the term in his book “Theatre Ecology” to advocate a shift in 21st century performance towards a praxis that “might dissolve the boundaries between performer and spectator to produce participants in ecologically responsive action.”

Drawing on performance documentation, interview material, and current scholarship from the field of theatre ecology, this paper interrogates the inside-outside relationship between performer, spectator and site in Ishinha’s “Twilight.” It problematizes the logic of mapping, orientation and inscription in the move towards biocentricity.

View conference book of abstracts.

Cover image: scene from Ishina’s 2016 production of Twilight. Photo by Ishinha.

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