Performance Art – A Forum for Alternative Thought


Piano Tuner
Whether it is a natural disaster or human absurdity, the overwhelming reality challenge the theatrical presentation which is basically a fiction. In the advanced information society striking images of reality are instantly televised in real time, stressing artists to compete with images in the electronic media. In face of the Grand Narrative in reality the essential question about theatre as a fiction is raised examining its significance and role in the society or in our life drastically.

N/z:The Piano Tuner (Chopin Noh – Stroiciel fortepianów) Jadwigi M. Rodowicz-Czechowskiej, Tessenkai Theatre Company z Tokyo (2011) – w roli tytułowej Tetsunojo Kanze, aktor shite i mistrz sztuki no szkoły Kanze, fot. archiwum KKT


Right after the devastating disaster on March, 11th, 2011, serious discussions have emerged in Japan about the significance of fictitious expression of performing arts. Many performances were cancelled in mourning to show condolences for the victims who lost their lives in the absurd power. We have questioned the effect of theatre in confronting the tragic reality and the difficulty of fictitious expression in response to it besides the sheer silence in prayer so as said about the impossibility of expressing holocaust.


Impressively enough, this sentiment of condolence shared by people is crystallized into the artistic piece by the Polish scholar and the Japanese Noh theatre group. Namely, the Ambassador of Poland to Japan, Mrs. Jadwiga M. Rodowicz-Czechowska who is the scholar specialized in Noh theatre, and the Japanese Noh Theatre Group, Tessenkai, are now collaborating to create the new production of Noh theatre in expressing their condolence to the victims of the recent disaster as well as those who lost lives in the tragic Holocaust. Mrs. Rodowicz-Czechowska felt the profound grief in sympathy for the victims who lost their lives by the huge absurdity of the earthquake and the Holocaust and she and Japanese Noh artists both wanted to create the new Noh production as a requiem to mourn the victims.


Because Noh Theatre, Mugen Noh in Japanese, is initially meant to mourn the spirit of the deceased and it is therefore the most appropriate theatrical form as a requiem, which has basically the gaze from the dead.


This piece is titled “Chinkon (in Japanese means requiem) Repose of Souls-The Memorial Night for the victims of Holocaust and Fukushima”. In fact, Mrs. Rodowich-Czechowska lost her uncle in Aushwitz and her personal sorrow is woven in the text. The story goes like this: A Japanese Man from Fukushima meets a boy at the Museum of Aushwits/Birkenau Concentration camp. This boy (mae jite), in fact, the spirit of the victim, Jan Vwonka,, who symbolizes all the victims of War. The chorus chant the circumstantial explanation in poetic words. The theatre in the whole entity is designed to express the condolences to the deceised. This is the unique case of the classic style being the most appropriate theatrical form of conveying our thought today, which will be completed as a proper Noh theatre to be premiered on the Anniversary of Holocaust on January 27, 2014 in Poland and Japan.


(Here, although this piece is not completed, I would like to show you their previous production which was created as a homage to Frederick Chopin on the 200 Anniversary of his birth. Waki, supporting actor is Delacroix, Mae-Shite living today is a piano tuner, Nochijite (Latter leading character) is the Spirit of Frederick Chopin. The story develops at George Sand’s summer house outside of Paris.

Musically, with the normal accompaniment of Noh music,

Piano was also used to accompany the performance for the first time.)


Indeed, in human history which is destined to overcome the ordeal in life to continue to live, theatre as an art has served as a forum for thoughts through its history, to enlighten our life in responding to the change of time.


With the question of artistic actuality being the crucial theme of performing arts, on the phase of historical turning point, theatre are challenged to offer their theatre as “a forum for alternative thought” again to move forward to the better future. In focus of contemporary communicability with the audience living in this drastic change, the new type of performance art proved to be successful to create the effective communicability in sharing thoughts with audiences. Theatre can be the common vehicle to reflect contemporary issues in a real world reading the reality as a living text to examine its meaning to the present world and give a chance to think further for a potential choice even at the critical condition of life.


Here, I would like to introduce some theatrical performance art, successfully responding to the new reality beyond the conventional framework of theatre, inviting the audience to participate in their artistic thoughts to investigate into the contemporary society and possibly human truth beyond boundary. When the conventional theatre fails to provide with the new awareness of the time, the new strategy of theatricality should be invented to create an effective communicability.




To confront the changing reality, the documental performance emerged as an effective and interesting endeavor in the contemporary theatre. Based on the analytical research of the facts of the real incident, the documentary performance has the potential for the fresh expression.


For its inventiveness of theatricality as a documentary performance and its resonance to the society, the unique art project unit, Rimini Protokoll, has presented the new form of performances, developed from the actual researches on the real incident. On the boundary of reality and fiction, but firmly based on the detailed researches and interviews to document the facts, they have explored the new horizon of performance theatre.


Their recent work, “Das Kapital, volume 1” (2009) focused on the philosophy of Karl Marx with the participation of Japanese specialist and provided the forum for the audience to study and examine the socialism and its theory presented by Marx, even with people who has the real experience of living under the communism in East Germany. These projects offer spectators an opportunity for another thought about their present situations under the global capitalism.


After some experience of butoh and postmodern dance, body itself became the important vehicle to convey the artistic reality. The living facts of performers’ body work as criticism on the issues. At the crucial edge of theatrical expression with the conventional dramaturgy of “representation” becoming less effective, the actuality of body has been keenly focused in the performing arts, introducing the body with facts, namely “a factual body”. Body is a living existence inscribed with facts and memories of the history, even if it is on the stage. The conscious use of the actuality of the body is effective to visualize the invisible and latent context emphasizing the important value in our time.


Utilizing the factual body in focus on the social problems, “S/N” performed by Dump Type is the epic making performance in the history of Japanese performing arts. Dump Type, Japanese multi media performance group with keen social awareness started the “S/N” project as a seminar since 1992, presenting “the facts” of performers’ bodies, stressing their awareness to the public. Namely, with their leading member, Teiji Furuhashi who was HIV positive and homosexual, and other performers like Bu Bu de la Madelaine who was the real sex worker and a deaf-mute dancer presented their realities as a document, blurring the border between the reality and the fiction. In “S/N” they used their bodies to document themselves in the society, confronting social codes and taboos and offered the critical forum for the public thinking.


Although the seminar project stopped with the death of Teiji Furuhashi in 1995, Dump Type members who are specialists in their respective field have continued their artistic activities to explore the new potential of art.


Their work, “true” premiered in 2007, has become another inventive creation inviting viewers to think over our time. This performance consisting of sound, lighting effect and dance focuses on the question of actuality in our perception. We usually understand the reality through our perception. This performance playfully questions our understanding through our perception, mainly through vision. It leads us to wonder what the true aspect of the matter we are watching is.


This performance art performed by two dancers is designed to examine our recognition system, investigating into the relations between brain work and reality. On the stage, a dancer is moving ordinarily on a simple table, which, in fact, has the complex system, linking to the muscle electricity censor worn by the peformer, which all the time betrays viewers’ recognition. This tells us that our existence is delicately related with outer elements. Amusing, but unexpected phenomena urge us to see matters carefully, in response to our time of quick change in the flooding information on mass media, which often edits and forges the fact, making our decision making process more difficult than we think.





When the reality got stuck in turmoil, experimental scheme of contemporary performance can be inspiring for the future. In the history of theatre, we know that attractive theatre has developed even under the oppressive situation as means of critical thought on the existing condition, that is, the alternative thought for the better future.


Even at the critical edge, the artists are continued to be inspired by the new reality. This is the time to examine why you as artists are here for creation and what to communicate with the audiences. The expression as a criticism on the reality rather than only reflecting it may be needed today.


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