From the sublime rhythms of Indonesia to the rituals of Japanese dance, the Theatre Royal’s ground- breaking ‘Five Theatres of the World’ season brings major international performers to Glasgow. Andrew Pulver profiles the next four shows, while the fifth, Budapest’s King Ubu (previewed in last issue) currently plays until 14 July.
THE WORLD’S A
cademy of Indonesian Arts, Surakarta Writing in 1931 , French theoretician Antonin Artaud said of visiting Balinese performers: ‘This theatre vibrates with instinctive things — but brought to that lucid intelligible point where they seem physically to supply us with some of the mind’s most secret perceptions.’ His experience of Indonesian theatre forms the opening statement of The Theatre And Its Double, Artaud’s seminal contribution to modern performance aesthetics; and down the years his ideas have reverberated through the work of Weiss, Brook, Barrault and countless others.
Attempting to live up to Artaud’s high-ﬂown rhetoric is the Academy of Indonesian Arts from Surakata; its own history providing a pointer to the development of classical dance forms during Indonesia’s troubled colonial past. Established in the 19605 in Java’s second city, the Academy drew on the disaffection and rivalry that had existed in Indonesia since the Dutch division of the Mataram Sultanate at the end of the eighteenth century. After independence in 1945, Jakarta (the capital) got the money and the tourists, and Surakarna got the poverty and the artists.
Nevertheless, the extraordinarily rich traditions of Indonesian theatre have continued to ﬂourish: the sumptuous performances of the Sultanate courts have developed into what Artaud described as ‘a marvellous feeling of richness, fantasy, and bounteous lavishness . . . regulated with a maddeningly conscious attention to detail. The fusion of rigid formality and deeply felt sensuousness produces a unique, cross-disciplinary, theatrical vocabulary — music, poetry, song and dance. The themes are mainly mythological, yet the choreographies are modern creations.
The company will present a variety of pieces, in three programmes, from both Java and Bali.
All are held together by a twenty-piece gamelan orchestra — a gamelan is a set of tuned percussion instruments comprising gongs, drums, bells and what not, and decorated with enormous elaboration; their precise and carefully modulated rhythms form the theatre’s distinct musical structure. Meanwhile, let Artaud have the last word. ‘In the Balinese theatre, one senses a state prior to language, able to select its own language, music, gesture, movement and words.’
SANKAI JUKU Unetsu j
Butoh is gradually taking hold of audiences’ imaginations across the world, as it graduates from the depths of the Japanese avant-garde to the international festival circuit — particularly here in Scotland where there has been a series of performances over the last few years. Originally developed during the 19605 it sought to break a twin stranglehold in Japan: the slavish mimicry of Western art-forms and the overpowering rigour of the traditional Japanese theatre. Butoh is that rare creature in contemporary mass-communication society: a form that is recognisably new and modern, but that retains the same sense of self-consciousness, of rituality. that is present in the ancient forms of noh and kabukL
Sankai Juku (meaning ‘Studio of Mountains and Oceans’) was founded in 1975 under the direction of Ushio Amagatsu, and has remained one ofthe world’s leading groups. Amagatsu has concentrated on modulating the intensity and violence ofearly butoh into a less tragic key. The central features ofbutoh performance are unchanged — near-naked, hairless bodies dusted with chalk; movements slow and perfectly controlled; imagery that is profoundly grotesque and disturbing, but that retains extraordinary beauty. However the old brutality — the bloodsoaked stage, the acts of slaughter — has been replaced with an imagery that stretches consciousness into prehistory; where there is an attempt to animate lost energies and ancient vitality; to evoke a kind of innocent, anti-civilised state, typified by past work such as Jomon Sho: Homage To Prehistory where Sankai Juku celebrates what it calls ‘the time of great freedom’ — the Jomon era of 8000—3OOBC.
Past performances of Sankai Juku have centred around the ‘Public Hanging’, where actors were lowered off the roofs of buildings for passersby; this practice abruptly ended in 1985 when founder member Yoshiyuki Takada fell to his death. The group took more than a year to recover from the tragedy, and have since developed new work. Unetsu is a concrete result of their feelings: literally translated as ‘Egg Standing Up Out Of Curiosity’ its themes revolve around ideas of death and rebirth, fertility and decay. The hatching egg provides a symbolic focus as the five actors perform onstage around a large pool of water.
To describe butoh as Japan’s ‘post-nuclear poetry’ is tempting and obvious. Butoh deals in
x '1’. /-,,, 1,, / ., 44
// 4/ I a;
lThe List l3—26July 1990