Friday, September 20, 2013

Basil Twist's "Dogugaeshi" puppet theater returns to Japan Society

In Basil Twist's ingenious Dogugaeshi--now sold out in its new run at Japan Society through Sunday--painted images recede and shrink, or steadily press forward, growing in intensity, or playfully pop up from out of nowhere. This kaleidoscope of sliding doors, dancing panels, Shinto gateways, silhouettes of people and objects, and glowing candlelight creates a continuously altered environment, a theatrical experience that disorients and enchants.
Dogugaeshi's white fox
It's sort of a shaggy fox story--featuring, at times, a shaggy white fox puppet--with no recognizable narrative and little conventional action, just the almost neverending opening of painted portal after painted portal onto more portals, each awaiting its turn to be pulled aside. This series of revelations, this simple dance of decor--dogugaeshi means "set change"--leads you, step by step, to a final, quiet awareness of the mysterious, archetypal essence of theater.
Sliding panels and some elusive fox puppets from Dogugaeshi
Presented in a deliberately constrained space--hence the quick dispersal of tickets--Dogugaeshi flows like dream inside your head. It can be a sweet dream. (Have you met that loping, Trickster fox--familiar of the god Inari--with his gorgeous eyes?) Or, like very different types of dreams, it can be frustrating or even anxiety-provoking. My general memories suggest that, for the current production, Twist has made changes from 2007 version of Dogugaeshi, seen here at Japan Society.
Shamisen musician and singer Yumiko Tanaka in Dogugaeshi
For one thing, this new edition acknowledges and evokes northeastern Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In one section, the delicate decor's walls and panels flap and tremble; tattered panels fall from the little ceiling as Yumiko Tanaka's shamisen emits shrieks and grinding sounds. Our thoughts surely go to Japan's historic trauma, but like everything else in Dogugaeshi, what we see before us and hear from Tanaka's masterful singing and playing seem like externalizations of our own sensations and feelings, all of this experience and information looping forward and back between us and the little puppet stage.

Although you probably do not have a ticket for Dogugaeshi, you can catch up on the many other events planned for Japan Society's 2013-14 season--including a shamisen workshop with Yumiko Tanaka on Saturday, November 2 (1pm). Click here for Japan Society's general information and schedule.

For more information on Basil Twist's extraordinary work, click here.

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