Tag Archives: Shun-kin

Field Notes: September and October Performances

Our first month of performances has gone by in a colorful and inspiring blur and it has me waxing a bit philosophical (and verbose).

We started the theater season off with a powerful bang from London’s Complicite. “Shun-kin,” with its quietly intricate beauty, surprising and subtle wit left me with an overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude. It’s probably one of my favorite performances from my tenure here at CAP UCLA.

After one of the performances, director Simon McBurney participated in a thought-provoking Q&A session with the audience. One moment in particular has stuck with me. He talked about the use of puppetry in the work and the way the puppet Shun-kin evolved into a human character and how that progression mirrored her devoted servant/lover’s (and our own) relationship to and perspective of the character. She is, in the beginning, very remote, an imperious and demanding child, untouchable, unknowable in certain ways. But as she exhibits more humanity, more connection to the man who loves her, she becomes more humanlike and finally, in a fit of jealous rage, when she is most in tune with her raw emotions, the actress who has been oh-so-deftly portraying the voice of the puppet seamlessly takes total control of the character.

For me, it serves as a larger metaphor about what we do here. For more than a year before these incredible performers took the stage, “Shun-kin” held some part of our consciousness. As we planned and prepped and as the pages of the calendar turned, the work became closer, more real, until finally it was here and we could revel in our tangible connection to the company, their great talent and generosity and the profound emotions and sensations elicited by this intricate work, which will never be performed by these people and in this way again.

This whole relationship to the art we present– first rather remote and then progressively more intense, morphing into a truly hands-on experience– is common, especially when planning to bring major works of theater and dance to our community, which are often herculean-like efforts and which we take great pride in undertaking. We talk a lot about the ephemeral nature of the performing arts, of theater, of dance, and how we, as the audience, the community who experiences, witnesses and invests some of ourselves in each performance, then becomes the walking “installation” of that ephemeral work.

With Shun-kin in particular, we were incredibly humbled and awed by the outpouring of support from the Japanese community. Lovers of Japanese folk music pounded the pavement to ensure everyone was aware that revered Shamisen player Honjoh Hidetaro was part of the piece.

A member of our own UCLA Community, recent Ethnomusicology grad Kevin Willoughby joined us to add a beautiful layer to our presentation of the work. Kevin was on site throughout the show’s run to assist his teacher, Honjoh Hidetaro. He also graciously agreed to share several charming shamisen performances in the verdant courtyard of Freud Playhouse prior to several nights of Shun-kin, setting a reverent tone for the evenings and allowing the audience to marvel at the skill it takes to play this challenging instrument. Here’s a snippet of Kevin rehearsing in the Freud courtyard.

A Few Seconds of Shamisen from CAP UCLA on Vimeo.

Kevin is the only U.S. student of Honjoh Hidetaro. He has been studying classical shamisen as an apprentice to the master musician in Tokyo for the past four years. In 2010 his teacher has granted him his natori –his professional stage name: Honjoh Hideeiji

Kevin said it was interesting to be back on campus without worrying about classes or textbooks. “It’s also quite different having my teacher here, showing him around rather than following him around Tokyo,” he joked. “He is one of the best shamisen players in Japan, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to study under him. He is a fantastic composer who has done a variety of different and new things with the shamisen.”

Our own donor base rallied around this incredibly intricate and massive work, with an opening-night benefit party celebrating “Shun-kin” and Complicite. Check out some gorgeous photos from that very special event.

Just a week or so later, our first dance work of the season came to us after much travail. Visa issues and travel delays for key members of Lucy Guerin Inc, required us to combine the planned two performances of “Weather” into a one-night-only event celebrating the debut of this astounding Australian company in Los Angeles.

As is metaphorically appropriate, we found ourselves in a mild maelstrom of technical difficulties, but banded together with the company with flexibility and creativity to weather the challenges. We were able to open the doors to the company’s final tech dress rehearsal for donors, students and ticket holders who absolutely couldn’t make it to the rescheduled debut and quite a few people took us up on it, lingering to talk about the work and the company with our director Kristy Edmunds long after the rehearsal performance had ended.

If you saw “Weather,” you saw what an incredible set it was, and how it set the perfect mood for Lucy’s intricate and often surprisingly whimsical choreography and concept, which carries inherent deep undertones about our relationship to our climate. Thousands of plain white plastic bags hung ominously over the stage, the precise lighting design turning these simple everyday products into something totally ethereal.

Having witnessed a bit of the technical precision and exacting nature of getting that deceptively simple-looking ghostly ceiling set up, I had a slightly rueful moment when I thought about all the work and time and human effort that went into ensuring that a 60-minute piece of art had its all-to-brief moment in our lives. But, I guess that’s the idea. It’s all ephemeral. We have to keep it in our hearts and souls to keep it alive.

I felt the same way a few weeks later as I peeked in several times to see the progress of the elaborate and alluringly frenetic sceneography for Robert Wilson’s Lecture on Nothing. So much loving and dedicated effort went in to ensuring that moment will last forever in our memories in vivid relief.

We took a moment to further honor John Cage that night, presenting his notorious work 4’33” on the Royce Terrace.

John Cage’s 4’33” from CAP UCLA on Vimeo.

And Bob Wilson made the most of his time here, staying late into the night after his Lecture performance, gleefully talking with students and fans, clearly on a high after his Royce performance and also the triumphant and long-awaited appearance of Einstein on the Beach at LA Opera the weekend before.

We were all on a bit of a high after that momentous weekend. One of the first Einstein-related activities in Los Angeles was our special presentation of the Einstein chorus to 1,100 middle and high-school students in a special demonstration performance in Royce Hall as part of our Design for Sharing education program.

These accomplished singers each presented a song that resonated with them, from arias to pop songs to self-composed work, to an operatic ode to the ingredients of a Twinkie. They ended the program by singing Philip Glass’s “Knee Play 5,” which entranced the students and instigated a bevy of questions about how these performers approach learning such a piece of music and how they manage to breathe while singing it. (Answer? They take turns and plan it out!)

We collaborated with Pomegranate Arts, producers of “Einstein on the Beach” and the LA Opera to allow more than 300 UCLA students to experience this seminal work for free, bussing them downtown to watch the final dress rehearsal the night before opening. We’re still hearing from students about how this work affected them. Stay tuned for a short documentary about it that we’re producing with the campus TV station.

All this amazing theater and incredible high-concept productions lifted us way up and our first two world music performances of the season took us even higher.

Our presentation of the masterful Goran Bregovic and his Wedding and Funeral Band proved a perfect opportunity to spend some time with our immediate neighbors and our campus community. We hosted a Balkan Dance Party on the Royce Terrace before Bregovic took the stage featuring Free Range Orkestar, Tzvetanka Varimezova and Ivan Varimezov, and the Nevenka Folk Ensemble.

Folks came, they danced, they sang along in a wonderfully joyous sensation that extended into the hall that night. Bregovic rocked the house, performing for well over two hours and the audience linked arms, danced in the aisles and refused to let him go.

Just two days later another joyous frenzy awaited as the sold-out and incredibly impassioned audience for The Idan Raichel Project reveled in the positive vibes and pure artistry of one of modern music’s most life-affirming and collaborative artists and everyone who shared his stage that night.

There’s so much more to come, from the nerd-rock heroics of They Might Be Giants this weekend to much more from Philip Glass this coming spring. Thanks to everyone who has been part of our story thus far and we hope to see much more of you as the season progresses.

Connecting to Complicite

We’re spending the next several weeks immersed in the final details of many of our upcoming programs, but especially for our presentation of Complicite and Setagaya Public Theater for Shun-kin, which kicks off our ambitious 2013-2014 slate of theater programming.

It’s an enormous logistical undertaking to bring an international theater company and all its crew, physical materials and performers to the U.S. And, essentially our presentation of Shun-kin entails the wrangling of two companies with performers and producers from London’s Complicite and a cast from Setagaya Public Theater of Japan. It is the kind of undertaking that can only happen when there is an extreme amount of ideological will, passion, and of course physical resource.

It is, for all its Herculean qualities, also quite a joyful effort and one we consider well worthwhile. This is only second time Complicite has appeared at UCLA. The last time was more than a decade ago in the 2002-2003 UCLA Live season when Simon McBurney brought his company to the program along with The Emerson String Quartet for the West Coast premiere of “The Noise of Time,” an eclectic multimedia production based on the haunted life of the great Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

Our upcoming presentation of Shun-kin is also a West Coast premiere, and one of only three U.S. stops on a very exclusive tour–last month the troupe performed at New York’s Lincoln Center and travels to the University of Michigan shortly before its UCLA engagement.

We’re so grateful for the excitement and support we’ve already experienced around this incredible work, and more keeps ramping up every day. We were very proud to collaborate with REDCAT’s Radar L.A. Festival and make Complicite part of the third-annual celebration of contemporary international theater. The full Radar L.A. program and schedule has officially been announced and it is full of artists from around the world, as well as acclaimed local companies.

Speaking of fellow theater folks, we’re also delighted that celebrated film actor and local theater booster/creator Tim Robbins has graciously joined the host committee for our opening-night benefit celebration. Tim joins a group of passionate and engaged CAP UCLA supporters as we welcome this extraordinary company back to Los Angeles, and as we raise funds in an effort to ensure the future inclusion of these challenging and important works and companies.

If you think our local arts culture becomes greater by having such art and artists bring their energy to it on a regular basis, we encourage you to join us for the Shun-kin opening-night benefit September 26. It will be a very special evening of a Japanese street fair to be held on the charming Coral Tree Walk, which borders Macgowan Hall and Freud Playhouse. You can support this opening-night revelry and our overarching international theater imperative at two different levels. If you have the means, we can guarantee an evening to remember and a great deal of gratitude from our organization and the artists we present.

One of those artists, Simon McBurney, founder of Complicite and director of Shun-kin has made his mark on the stage and film and on fellow artists. We also recently discovered that one of McBurney’s own mentors, French theater and clown master Philippe Gaulier will be in Los Angeles for the first time in the weeks prior to our presentation of Shun-kin.

From August 26-September 6 The Clown School is offering an exclusive chance for local artists to learn under this master in an intensive workshop. As of this writing, there were just six spots left. If you’re intrigued by the art of clown, this is a rare opportunity to learn from a master. There are also a limited number of $20 tickets to observe Gaulier’s final workshop with his local students on Sept. 6.

McBurney was a student at École Philippe Gaulier, a theatre workshop that influenced the founding and ongoing approach of Complicite.

David Bridel, who runs The Clown School (and is also Associate Dean in the School of Dramatic Arts at USC, but we don’t hold that against him), gave us a heads-up about Philippe’s first-time master class work in our city and offered a great impromptu testimonial for the appearance of Complicite on our season.

“Along with Philippe, Complicite are responsible for rearranging my theatrical imagination entirely with their seminal works of the last 25 years,” Brindel said.

That, my friends, is kind of what we’re after. We’re after those moments, and we want to continue to bring the people and works of art that can bring that rearrangement to our lives.

It was also energizing to discover (long after the program was set) that UCLA has a unique aesthetic tie to Shun-kin and the writing that inspired its creation. I mentioned in a previous blog entry that former UCLA professor Charles Moore wrote the forward to Junichiro Tanazaki’s “In Praise of Shadows.” Shun-kin is based in part on this and other writings from the celebrated Japanese author and it was a thrill to uncover that inherent link to the gestalt of this place of learning and advancement.

These encounters are delightful, especially in the sense that they are not exactly rare. It is not a surprise to discover the versatile, personal and far-reaching influence of artists and their work, but it is definitely rewarding and encourages us to redouble our efforts to bring that vision and influence to the greatest possible audience with the greatest possible impact.

Join us as we connect with Complicite next month.