Greenside @ Infirmary Street
Yoshitaka Suzuki is one of those young global citizens enriching our contemporary European arts by exploring the fusion of tradition, modernity and interculturality.
Trained in France, engaged also by butoh, living now in Amsterdam, Suzuki is inspired by the painting Akita no Gyoji by Tsungharu Foujita (who also lived most of his life in Paris). So, he made a research trip to the town of Akita, in northern Japan, and his present show invites us to enjoy the traditional arts of this area shown on film as well as his own modern adaptations.
He also treats us to a tasting of sake and a local culinary treat, iburigakko, a smoked, pickled daikon radish. Yum! The tasting also serves to break the ice among the audience.
Among the show's highlights is the Hanekawa Kenbayashi, a 400-year-old sword dance to celebrate the victory in war of the Lord of Hanekawa. Far removed from the battlefield, it is elegance incarnate.
Also engaging are the Namahage, the gods who come down from the mountains in mid-winter and go from house to house in large, fearsome, wooden masks to get food and sake and bless those inhabitants who are not lazy or cry-babies.
In a film version, we see the men making their straw costumes and receiving the masks from the priest at the Shinto temple. Japan’s culture is much closer to animism, with spirits and gods in Nature playing a role in daily life as in worship. The Namahage are wild and earthy creatures, growling noisily, and Suzuki dances his own version in an impressive manifestation of the scary monsters that are equally funny and beautiful.
In another film, we see him dancing in Akita with traditional dancers, the grace and fluidity of the movements later being translated to the stage in Edinburgh.
The musical accompaniment ranges from shamisen to jazz.
Suzuki is pushing at the boundaries, experimenting to blend the Japanese form with the European. It is evident that the Japanese forms are grounded, focused, and yet airy, spiritual, an exceptional blend that enlivens our contemporary forms.
It’s a pity that his passion and skill is darkened somwhat by the poor stage lighting, one of the hazards of the Edinburgh Fringe, when performers are obliged to share a basic rig. And it would be good to see this generous performance in a better venue where full lighting could do it justice.