Theatre of Yugen, U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network (CTN) and San Francisco International Arts Festival (SFIAF) present the world premiere of Mystical Abyss at ODC Theater, September 27-30, 2012 as part of SFIAF's 10th anniversary season. Mystical Abyss is the culminating production of a career in which Japanese-born director Yuriko Doi has brought to the West a distinctive fusion of traditional Japanese dramatic arts and cutting-edge world theater. In this production, Doi returns to origins, plumbing both Japanese and American prehistory and myths.
Synopsis and Inspiration: Izanagi and Izanami, husband and wife, create the Japanese islands and an assortment of deities. After Izanami dies in childbirth, the distraught Izanagi follows her to the Underworld, where he witnesses her frightening transfiguration, recoils, and invokes her rage. The Japanese Sun Goddess Amaterasu retreats into a cave in fear and indignation at the raucous antics of her brother, only to be lured back into the world by the redemptive power of Art. Interwoven with these Japanese stories is the Iroquois creation myth in which Sky Woman, hurled by her husband into an abyss in the glowing Sky Country, plunges through the dark where, with the assistance of animals anxious to curb her fall, she lands on a turtle to create the continent of North America.
For Mystical Abyss, Doi has assembled a team of collaborators who are luminaries in their respective fields. John O'Keefe, celebrated American playwright, developed the script. The Kanze School Noh master Shiro Nomura, an Intangible Cultural Asset of Japan, is in charge of the Noh choreography. On stage, Shiro's son, Masashi Nomura, portrays the goddesses Izanami and Amaterasu, supported by Noh musicians Narumi Takizawa (flutes including Nohkan) and Yoshio Ueno (drums including Ohtsuzumi hip drum). Mohawk dancers and singers Kenny and Roger Perkins are joined by Aztec mitote performance artist Cuauhtemoc Peranda and Mexican folkloric dancers Jesus Jacoh Cortes and Janelle Ayon. Catalan-American actor Lluis Valls plays the roles of the Turtle and Narrator. Japanese CG animators Taketo Kobayashi and Koya Takahashi deploy thrilling images inspired by prehistoric Japanese Jomon art to complement Renta Kouchi's set. Traditional Noh mask carver Hideta Kitazawa (nominee for the Bay Area Critics' Circle award in 2011) has carved two masks for the production--one evocative of ancient Japanese Jomon-period artifacts, and the other an abstract tour-de-force based on the animators' vision.
Mystical Abyss will be an intellectual yet widely accessible theatrical work that evokes powerful images of unity and harmony across different generations, cultures and traditions, telling the cyclical story of death and re-birth and questing for balance between that which is deemed "good" and "evil/darkness."
Between Japanese and Native American cultures and sensitivities there are some commonalities that are known, for example, appreciation of ancestral relationships, spirituality and nature. However, prior to Yuriko Doi's productions, serious artistic exploration that fused the artistic traditions and expressions of the two cultures did not exist. Mystical Abyss will be the third in a triptych of Japanese Noh and Native-American fusion works directed by Doi. Her commitment to studying the subject has embraced more than a decade following Crazy Horse in 2001 and Moon of the Scarlet Plums in 2005. It will also be the final major theatrical production by the founder of Theatre of Yugen, the only ensemble theatre in North America specializing in the 600-year-old Japanese Noh and Kyogen theatres and contemporary productions with their influences. During the four year-creation process for Mystical Abyss, Doi did considerable research into the early cultures and mythologies of ancient Jomon Japan and of the Iroquois Nations. This work included visits to sites and discussions with experts. The play has gone through an evolutionary process including workshops and staged-readings.
Doi celebrated her 70th birthday last August. Her approach to Mystical Abyss has been full of hard work, tenacity, courage, challenges and love, just as her life as a transplanted woman artist from Japan has been, working in forms that are traditionally all male. Doi says, "I have spent my life building bridges across false divides, and as a mother, who hoped for a better world for her children. I see Mystical Abyss as a metaphor for our need to be reborn, to go back to the beginning and move forward on a path of peace and respect for our world and each other. We are living at a crux in time demanding that we no longer turn rigidly away from what we dread or, worse, accuse others of the vices we deny in ourselves. Try as we might, as individuals and as societies, to "put the past behind us"-even to suppress those aspects of ourselves and our histories that we would rather not confront-it is only by embracing the whole experience of life, including our inner darkness, the relatedness of man and nature, and the inevitability of death, that we can create a healthier world as a legacy to our children."