Tokyo Theater Commons and Tokyo Performing Arts Meeting

This article was originally published in the Japan Times Newspaper on January 24, 2017.

A bonanza is brewing in Tokyo and Yokohama for lovers of cross-cultural contemporary theater.

That’s because, from Jan. 25 to Feb. 5, the capital’s Minato Ward hosts a new performance and workshop program named Theater Commons Tokyo. Meanwhile Yokohama’s Naka Ward welcomes the seventh installment of the Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama (aka TPAM) from Feb. 2 to 19.

Directed by Chiaki Soma, the acclaimed former artistic director of Festival/Tokyo, T-C-T (as some are styling it) is dedicated to rethinking the function of theater via adjacent domains such as architecture, urban planning, literature, visual arts and welfare. This inaugural year’s program includes two performances augmented by lectures, four workshops, a symposium and a photo exhibition.

Spread over three evenings, one of those performances will be “Beitou/ Tokyo Heterotopia,” a collaboration by Akira Takayama, artistic director of the Tokyo-based Port B artistic collective he formed in 2002, along with Taiwanese writers Walis Nokan and Yuchin Chen. This time, they piece together stories from their previous site-specific works “Tokyo Heteropia” and “Beitou Heteropia,” in which directions sent to their smartphones led “audiences” on artistic and/or experiential “treasure hunts” in Tokyo and the Taiwanese hot-spring resort of Beitou, respectively.

In addition, at the all-glass Shibaura House, the so-called “neo-Dadaist” Tokyo artist collective ChimPom will present a lecture/performance that reflects on the 11 years of its often controversial activities — notably including its “Don’t Follow the Wind” exhibition inside the Fukushima radioactive exclusion zone in 2015 that featured its own artworks and ones by such luminaries as Ai Weiwei.

Among T-C-T’s workshops, French playwright Pascal Rambert will lead participants on an exploration of urban spaces in Minato Ward, creating new narratives from the incidents, sounds and words they encounter.

Naoki Sugawara, director of the OiBokkeShi theater company that specializes in the theme of aging, will also lead two workshops titled “Aging and Theater” (open to the general public) and “Rehearsals for Aging” (for those aged 65 and over) that each aim to explore the potential relationship between theater and caregiving.

Meanwhile, since moving from Tokyo to Yokohama in 2011, TPAM has worked hard to nurture collaborations among international theater artists with a particular focus on Asia. This year it will showcase new works from Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia.

From Japan, the celebrated playwright Oriza Hirata will present “Taipei Notes,” an adaptation of his hit play “Tokyo Notes” performed by the Taipei-based Voleur du Feu Theater; while Kyoto-based choreographer Zan Yamashita will perform “Road of Evil Spirit,” a new piece that draws on his field research on traditional Balinese dance and approaches it through the relationship between teacher and student.

As well, Niwa Gekidan Penino, one of Japan’s most visually creative companies, will perform “Dark Master” as part of the TPAM Fringe Program. The play tells the story of a highly talented but antisocial culinary chef from Osaka who dupes a customer into taking over his role in the kitchen.

TPAM’s roster of overseas productions will see Eko Supriyanto direct “Balabala,” a dance piece inspired by a traditional East Indonesian form and performed by five women from the region, while “Fever Room,” the first stage work by Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is a projection-performance aiming to offer audiences “a new experience that transcends the frameworks of cinema and theater.”

T-C-T and TPAM are two fascinating events that recognize the fundamental need to create chances for dialogue and reflection between the many “publics” that traverse these performance spaces — both onstage and among audiences.

Cover image: A still from ChimPom’s T-C-T show. Photo by Kenji Morita.

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