Choose your own hybrid Japanese adventure

Richard Watts

Immerse yourself in experimental dance and theatre direct from Japan; experience Sydney through fresh eyes and from a bold new perspective.
Choose your own hybrid Japanese adventure

Wataru Kitao in The Unknown Dancer in the Neighbourhood, March 2017 at Eternity Playhouse. Image supplied.

Machi is the Japanese word for city. But when did you last have an adventure in the city you call home?

For many of us, our ruts and routines mean that the cities we live in have become over-familiar, even ordinary.

Machi Adventure: Step Into My Home is the latest collaboration between The Japan Foundation, Sydney (JPF) and Japan’s Steep Slope Studio, and promises to shine a new light on Sydney.

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In the process, audience members will be immersed in a bold new world of intimate, experimental performance, including opportunities to solve riddles and to leave your own mark on the city you inhabit.

The production is in part inspired by the experiences of Yumina Kato, producer and director of Steep Slope Studio, on her previous visits to Australia.

‘She was pretty surprised after the very first project we did together, which was at the Eternity Playhouse in Darlinghurst. She was curious about how the theatre used to be a church … how it had a previous life before its current life as a theatre,’ explains Margarett Cortez, Program Coordinator, Arts and Culture Department at The Japan Foundation, Sydney.

‘While exploring Sydney’s inner city suburbs, she was really interested in the structures and the terrace houses which they don’t really have in Japan. Knowing that these buildings have had different lives; that different people have lived in these spaces – and the idea that we can also leave something behind – that was a little magical to her. And so this is what audience can expect to experience at Step Into My Home.’

Learn more about Machi Adventure: Step Into My Home

The site-specific dance and theatre works being staged as part of Step Into My Home tap into recent trends in Japanese performance, in which traditional art form boundaries are broken down and hybridity is encouraged, even expected.

‘It’s basically been happening in Japan for some time, where dancers are starting to speak or sing on stage. It’s no longer just about movement,’ said Cortez.

‘And at the same time, many emerging actors in the Japanese theatre world would actually have dance backgrounds – there’s more diversity in terms of the skills of the performers.’

Cortez had initially envisaged Step Into My Home as an immersive dance event, but the Steep Slope Studio team had different ideas.

‘They have a tradition of creating new work with a lot of cross-pollination between art forms, and so they were the ones who actually suggested mixing theatre and dance for this work. I had an immersive dance experience in mind but they said, “No, we’ll bring some solo performers.” For example, one of the works, Layer/Angle/Composition, is a solo performance but was created in collaboration between an actor, a choreographer and a playwright.’

Fresh from Tokyo Performing Arts Market 2017, Layer/Angle/Composition sees actor Satoko Yoshida perform the words of playwright Takahiro Fujita, with movement choreographed by Yukina Sakai.

Experimental dancer and choreographer Teita Iwabuchi, cross-genre choreographer Wataru Kitao, and actor and theatremaker Takeshi Fukuda will also perform in Step Into My Home, with the performances ideal for theatregoers who are bored of the usual delineations between audience and performer, and who crave something other than a well-written play.

‘What we want to bring to Australia is a very different theatre experience where we expect the audience to participate. And not really knowing what’s going to happen – which is something that happens all the time in Japan, where you go to a performance and suddenly the performers are moving amongst the crowd – something like that I think will be very surprising to Sydney audiences,’ said Cortez.

By bringing contemporary Japanese performance to Sydney, by blurring geographic boundaries as well as art form boundaries, Cortez hopes to provide audience members with a truly unexpected experience of the theatre.

‘I think it would also be very interesting arriving at the secret meeting point and seeing this Japanese performer, who may or may not speak English, before being taken away,’ she said.

‘As an audience member it might be confusing at first because you don’t know when the performance starts or when it stops. At the same time I hope that’s something the Sydney audience will enjoy. I really hope for the performance to open their minds and also encourage them to use their imagination.’

Machi Adventure: Step Into My Home runs over 16-17 March at a secret location near Chippendale. Visit jpf.org.au/events/machi-adventure/ for details and booking information.

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves on the Committee of Management for La Mama Theatre, on the board of literary journal Going Down Swinging, and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel. He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts

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