Canadian Stage brings a taste of Japanese culture to the Berkeley Street Theatre
Theatre, and dance, and robots. Oh, my! Japanese culture takes over the Berkeley Street Theatre next week for Spotlight Japan, a celebration of classic and contemporary Japanese culture presented by Canadian Stage as part of a city-wide festival. The programming will showcase a selection of work from Japan’s leading playwrights, choreographers and artists, including two dance pieces, Haptic and Holistic Strata (double bill one), by Hiroaki Umeda, and two short plays, Sayonara and I, Worker (double bill two), by Japan’s leading contemporary playwright Oriza Hirata. In addition to the theatre and dance events, Spotlight Japan will feature live music, food and drink tastings, art displays, robot demonstrations, and more.
Here, Canadian Stage artistic director Matthew Jocelyn gives us a behind-the-scenes look at this innovative performing arts festival.
Theatromania: Tell us about Canadian Stage’s involvement in Spotlight Japan. How did you find the pieces for this year’s festival?
MJ: Canadian Stage presents an international spotlight festival every two years (in 2010/2011 we presented Spotlight on Italy), but this year, a number of organizations in Toronto are participating in a city-wide series called Spotlight Japan. This partnership came about because after announcing our programming featuring Japan we learned our programming intersected with the work our partners at Soundstreams were planning. We had a meeting and decided to join forces, then met with the team at TIFF and so on. It really grew from local initiatives into a city-wide festival that really shows that when organizations have a common artistic theme and goal, something major can come out of
The pieces themselves have been on the edge of developing theatre and dance. Oriza Hirata (who wrote Sayonara and I, Worker) is a leading playwright—and I have been following his writing for 10 or 12 years now. In fact, he was one of the first writers I talked about bringing to Toronto when I began programming at Canadian Stage. It is very serendipitous that we’re able to help bring him to Canada.
Hiroaki Umeda is a solo dancer, who came to the dance field quite late in his career. And with his first couple of pieces, he created a dance form that was startlingly new, and personal, and spoke to the complexities of the world, and of the Japanese society around him. He has introduced video work that is almost more installation than dance—his creations hover between art and dance and the two pieces we’ll present (Haptic and Holistic Strata) really marry both of these art forms.
Theatromania: How would you describe the overall aesthetic of these works?
MJ: Hiroaki Umeda’s work is really very visually oriented; he’s working with video projection and images that he’s created or images that are happening in relation to the dance on a very large scale with the most sophisticated technology.
Oriza Hirata has a very different aesthetic; he is concentrating on an intimate theatrical experience with human and robot actors, and is really concerned about a robotic exchange between these two characters. This has a more immediate connection to what we might consider a traditional Japanese piece of theatre.
Theatromania: Both Sayonara and I, Worker feature human and robot actors. Did you ever think you would see this type of leading-edge technology on stage? Did it surprise you at all?
MJ: I think what surprises me is how interested I am in it. Nothing surprises me in terms of technological
advancement in theatre and nothing surprises me in terms of what we’re capable of creatively. What surprises me is what actually becomes surprising and where does it play within our senses. The robot actors aren’t remarkable because of the technological developments to build them, but because of where they sit in our own emotional spectrum.
Theatromania: What can Canadian theatre artists and audiences learn from Japanese arts and culture?
MJ: I think that what we have to learn from every experience that’s outside of our own is widening our perspective of what can take place on the stage and what relationship theatre, art and audience can have. Both of these pieces are attached to a specific Japanese heritage and tradition, but they also help to explode the boundaries of what you can do on stage and what story telling is.
Spotlight Japan runs from February 26 to March 2 at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street, Toronto). Visit canadianstage.com for more information and to buy tickets.