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 Sone 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 Sone 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 book of abstracts.

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

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