Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Sankai Juku headline Esplanade’s new Japanese festival of arts

Japanese butoh troupe Sankai Juku will present Meguri: Teeming Sea, Tranquil Land at the Super Japan festival.
Japanese butoh troupe Sankai Juku will present Meguri: Teeming Sea, Tranquil Land at the Super Japan festival.PHOTO: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY

Esplanade's new Super Japan festival showcases Japanese traditions reinvented with the help of Singaporean artists

Singapore's Chong Tze Chien and Japan's Shigeki Nakano will direct back-to-back versions of the same Noh drama on the same night and same stage for the Esplanade's new Japanese festival of arts.

Super Japan launches on May 13 with a pop concert by super-kawaii singer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and ends on May 22 with Okinawan folk music from reunited members of 1990s sensation Nenes.

Also on the menu: Japanese street food stalls; a kimono fashion show; dance spectacles from the likes of butoh troupe Sankai Juku; and the return of jazz trumpeter Eric Miyashiro, four years after his show here. He performs on May 15 with his Blue Note Tokyo All-Star Jazz Orchestra. Singapore's Nathan Hartono is a guest vocalist.

Festival producer Sara Fang, 39, says Super Japan focuses on cultural exchanges between the two countries and builds on the Esplanade's long relationships with Japanese artists and institutions. It also comes as both countries celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties.

A collaboration with Japan's Suntory Hall brings in the kabukiinspired dance spectacle Himiko: Memories Of The Sun Goddess on May 20. The show is the creation of four noted Japanese artists: kabuki actor Fukusuke Nakamura, composer Yoshihiro Kanno, violinist Yasuko Otani and shamisen player Mojibei Tokiwazu.

Another highlight is Meguri: Teeming Sea, Tranquil Land on May 20 and 21, a work from acclaimed all-male butoh troupe Sankai Juku. Producers include the Esplanade, French company Theatre de la Ville and Kitakyushu Performing Arts Centre in Japan.

  • BOOK IT/ SUPER JAPAN - JAPANESE FESTIVAL OF ARTS

  • WHERE: The Esplanade, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: May 13 to 22, various timings

    ADMISSION: Various prices, tickets from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: www.esplanade.com/superjapan

Then there is Drums on May 14 and 15, where Chong and Nakano reinterpret writer Yukio Mishima's The Damask Drum. A princess mocks an old and poor suitor, saying she will be his when he can coax sound from a voiceless drum.

Chong, 40, The Finger Players company director, was the obvious choice for the collaboration, given last year's Seed, presented with the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre.

In Skype chats with Nakano, the directors agreed to design the stage together and present their separate versions of the story back to back.

Doing this is a first for both, as is the choice of Noh, known for its emphasis on tradition, slow movements, poetic language, monotonous tones and heavy costumes, which include masks.

Chong, who is heading to Japan for research this week with actor Oliver Chong, says: "I won't go so far as to say we'll learn Noh, but we want to touch base with the art form and distil it into an essence that I can transfer into a modern theatre setting." His version will also star actress Jean Ng.

Nakano, 43, is known for modern theatre and writes in an e-mail that he is no specialist in the ancient art.

"At first glance, you will not find my piece to look like a traditional Noh performance, but I will try to make it something which can be shown only through the Noh way of being," he says. "I think of Noh as taking the emotion and thought of one intense moment, one second, in a character's life and expressing it in one hour... Everything in the performance tries to capture and explain that one second with refined sensitivity."

Having bonded with Chong over discussions of how Tokyo and Singapore have changed rapidly, he adds that he is looking forward to finding more common ground. "The theatre to both of us is a kind of neutral bubble where the essential truths of our lives are examined and displayed," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2016, with the headline 'From Noh to J-pop'. Print Edition | Subscribe