“Echoes of Calling - rainbow after -,” a magnificently choreographed piece by acclaimed Japanese artist Akiko Kitamura, showing at Ikebukuro's Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre for three days in March is a long-term and fascinating collaborative venture between Japan, Ireland and Central Asia. There's a lot going on in this performance from the eclectic group of dancers and performers to languages and aesthetics but it works and comes together to present a coherent and powerful message. In the program notes, it says, “How do the intangible physical expressions and sounds of traditional Celtic culture and Japan's ancient culture work on our memories? How possible is the relationship between tradition and the present that transcends differences in forms of expression, culture, nationality, language?”
From the outset, the dystopian mise-en-scène of silver rocks, Irish music playing gently in the background, metal falling from the skies creating a filmic and dark setting in which seven dancers appear as if freshly born into this world. Although the total number of dancers in the production is eight, for me, the intercultural significance of the number seven perhaps acts as a light leitmotif throughout the production and is only broken with the appearance of Uzbekistan traditional performing artist Axror Baxshi who gently sings, chants and narrates in Uzbek while the equally majestic Irish chanteuse Diane Cannon beautifully sings or narrates in Gaelic which at times, and somewhat surprisingly, sounds like Uzbek. Perhaps this is a point being made by the production that languages intermingle and can, at times, resemble each other. Romanian and Italian, Dutch and German, Czech and Slovak, at times they fuse and come to be one signifier, one method of communication.
Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner, John Hume, once wrote, "I felt knowledge and the unity of the world circulate in me like my own blood” and, for me, this statement and political undercurrent is felt throughout the production as the Japanese dancers and Irish performer Minte Wolde, who has a superb solo sequence, squirm and mold themselves into beings from the atomized and singularity of their beginnings on stage at the opening section.
Although the message behind “Echoes of Calling - rainbow after -” is universal and straightforward enough, the dance which is the medium which portrays this theme is at times frustrating. Staccato movements, speech patterns which repeat on end for some time as they stutter and stammer to form words and meaning. The frustration of the performers is also felt by the audience as we wait and engage in and share the exasperation. And the question which is potentially posed is how do we become ourselves through movement, speech, mannerisms and song? How do we become conscious, how do we form as cells, as beings and the movement behind being human? The dancers are adept, nimble (as you would naturally expect) and as the production flows the atomized and polarization fuses into chapters and vignettes with pairs, small groups and the whole eight dancers. The message being that we can work together, we can understand differences and we can become one.
Kitamura's program notes explain more about the aim behind “Echoes of Calling - rainbow after -:” “We will create dance that traverses historically and spatially the ‘local culture’ that tends to be unclear in a globalizing society, and opens up the veins of traditional culture and the future. Taking as a contemporary theme the ‘prayer’ of a community that has been deeply involved in the coexistence of humans and nature in a fluctuating natural environment, the rhythm, breathing, and vocal echoes of nature that transcend language are transformed into dance, and leads to the hope of being with beings far beyond human power.”
Kitamura has previous experience working within intercultural and international dance. In 2010, she worked on “To Belong” with Indonesian artists and “Cross Transit” with performers from Southeast and South Asia. A professor at Shinshu University, Kitamura brings intellectual clout to her work and although the thematic leitmotif that runs through this production is clear, the abstract and difficult presentation is challenging for the viewer making “Echoes of Calling - rainbow after -” a gripping yet formidable experience.
The visual and sound elements were subtle yet spectacular with an array of sounds, abstract booms, songs from various continents and in polyphonic form with a background screen displaying languages, broken down and merging, fusing then dissipating. Together with Axror Baxshi's stunning vocals and Dianne Cannon's elegiac narration and comforting words to the performers as if wishing them to unite, to understand their predicament and to, ultimately, heal.
Contained within the teachings of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the number seven holds a special significance. And although Kitamura acknowledged after the performance that seven, for her, wasn't a vital number or theme and that she was more inspired by other Central Asian tales, the number seven remains in play as a subtext for me. Seven days to complete creation, the seven heavens of Islam and Judaism and the concept that seven is linked with unity and mystique is an underlying element to “Echoes of Calling - rainbow after -.” Alone, separated, learning to walk, speak, become whole, the performers eventually come together, touch, jump on and assist each other, crouching to teach speech, understanding the need to be individual and also be part of a unit, a society. To be complete.
And although the most striking elements to this production are the inclusion of Central Asian and Celtic motifs, the quiet background of Japaneseness is always present. The speech from the Japanese performers, counting syllables in speech and trying to make sense of the world in which they inhabit. And when leaving the auditorium, I'm strangely left with the haunting yet true worlds of Japanese Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata who wrote, “Time flows in the same way for all human beings; every human being flows through time in a different way” and this is what makes us different but also, fundamentally, the same.