ZEAMI MOTOKOYO & W.B. YEATS
THE WELL-STONE & THE DREAMING OF THE BONES
theatre/opera director, film maker
Musician, choreographer, academic.
Studied with Jan Kott, whose radical approach to the theatre has been inspirational.
Research fields: Sophocles, Noh, Samuel Beckett
Expert on Kabuki, Noh theatres. Pioneered experimental work interpreting
Noh aesthetics and dramaturgy in modern theatrical terms.
BA: Humanities, International Christian University, Tokyo
MFA: Theatre Arts, School of Fine & Applied Arts, Boston University.
PhD: Dramatic Art, University of California, Berkeley
Film making: New York Film Academy
As a theatre director my work is distinctly minimalist, achieving powerful, strikingly visual theatricality with the sparest of means. "Compelling", "restrained but eloquent", "utterly clear and focused", "incredibly pure", "incredibly strong" are reviewers' comments on my recent productions. I thrive on the spatial constraints of theatre, which compel inventiveness; equally I relish the visual and temporal freedom in film storytelling.
AMONG PLAYS DIRECTED: The Choephori (Aeschylus); The Cyclops (Euripides); 12th century music drama The Play of Daniel (anonymous), 14th century Noh plays Sotoba Komachi & Izutsu (Zeami), The Wild Duck (Ibsen); Three Sisters (Chekhov); Blood Wedding (Lorca); The Dreaming of the Bones (Yeats); Vatzlav (Mrozek); Endgame & Come and Go (Beckett); Friends & The Cliff of Time (Abe Kobo); Kesho (Hisashi Inoue). World premieres of Paul Barker's operas The Pillow Song and Malinche for the London International Opera Festival. One Night or Day, a short film inspired by Samuel Beckett's three works Stirrings Still, One Evening & Krapp's Last Tape.
WORK IN PROGRESS
The Persians Aschylus' eye witness account of the catastrophic defeat of the Persians in the battle of Salamis (480BC), in which the author himself is said to have taken part. Some 25 centuries on, the oldest extant play, 472BC, still resonates with its powerful portrayal of the devastation of war and comments on the folly of men who wage it. In a moving tribute, Aeschylus recalls the names of those lost in the battle and their brave deaths. The recurrent names of these warriors haunt and echo through the play.
Performed by 5 speaking characters and a Chorus of 12-15 men, the play would suit and benefit from an operatic interpretation. A robust collaboration between poet/writer, composer and director is essential. More on Persians
Yabu no Naka (In the Grove) A stage adaptation of the short story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927), which famously inspired Kurosawa's film classic Rashomon. A body is found in a grove, and the drama unfolds in a manner reminiscent of Brecht's The Measures Taken. Apparently a crime has been committed, rape and murder, but the witnesses' conflicting accounts of the crime only illuminate the elusive nature of truth. And at the centre of it all is a young woman, an enigma who provokes, propels and finally veils the action - the truth. An experimental piece involving mime, recitative, percussion and projected moving images. The stage is almost bare, with a tall bamboo thicket defining the space.
Five Easy Pieces Since time immemorial story tellers have been spinning tales of man on his journey. Here in five tales varying in time and context - from ancient Greece, the Middle East, medieval Japan to post-modern Europe - a man is on his journey and has a story to tell. What message will he impart ? And they collectively ?
King Lear A stripped-down essential Shakespeare. Could Lear's tragedy be enacted with a minimum of narrative and decor ? And be all the more powerful for it ?
Ludus Danielis A rarely staged 13th century music drama based on the biblical tales of the exiled prophet Daniel, first performed by the young clerics of Beauvais Cathedral in Northern France. The play, little known to the contemporary audience, is a masterpiece of early music and drama combining music, poetry and visual spectacle, performed in the New Year as part of the revelry of the Feast of Fools.
Produced in collaboration with The Harp Consort the premiŹre performances of Ludus Danielis took place in 2007 at Southwark Cathedral, London, and King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. Despite the Latin text, the performance received enthusiastic reponses from the audience and the press. More on Daniel
“Southwark Cathedral forms a stage-set beyond compare, while on a dais in the middle of the chancel stands an elongated red-lacquer chair, like a ladder to heaven: the sole prop that the director Akemi Horie has permitted herself. . .
As a musical event, this would charm the birds off the trees. The timbre of the male singers - led by the baritone Peter Harvey and tenor Julian Podger - reflects classical polish, while the female singers, though pure-toned, favour a folky kind of belt.
What unites them, however, is a beguiling blend of conviction and joie de vivre, plus a uniquely deft mix of medieval musical sounds. Having taken the surviving manuscript's minimalism as their cue for harmonic inventions, the modal music that results creates a wonderfully dreamy ambiance.” Michael Church, opera critic of The Independent, giving 5 stars. Daniel Review in full
Contemporary Noh A trilogy comprising 14th century Noh play Sotoba Komachi, Kyogen The Melon Thief and Journey, a collage based /of on three works of Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, Endgame and Worstward Ho.
Sotoba Komachi recounts the tale of a once legendary beauty (9th century historical figure) cursed to live on in decreptitude, possessed by the vengeful spirit of a taunted suitor. A chance encounter between an old woman and two pilgrim monks unfolds the drama. Noh classic by Kan'ami (1336-1383), Komachi is performed here with new music and choreography, initiating an aesthetic and thematic journey into the post-modern world of Beckett.
Echoing Noh dramaturgy, Journey portrays a chance encounter between Clov of Endgame, on his perpetual journey in limbo since leaving Hamm, and the two men still waiting for Godot on a deserted country road. What message would Clov impart to the two waiting men? A single soprano voice sings unaccompanied passages from Worstward Ho as the Chorus. Clov is also heard muttering fragments from Worstward Ho as he journeys on.
The Melon Thief, an anonymous medieval comic interlude (Kyogen) performed here in a timeless universal context, bridging the two distinct worlds of Kan'ami and Beckett.
By placing the medieval Japanese Noh in a modern theatrical context, the performance illuminates an unlikely affinity between the Noh and the world of Samuel Beckett.
In summer 1989 I wrote to Beckett explaining this project and how I would combine his three works, Waiting for Godot, Endame and Worstward Ho, in a collage in Noh form. A copy of Sotoba Komachi was also sent. After all I was taking great liberties with his works by assuming that Clov indeed left Hamm at the end of Endgame and by postulating a chance encounter between Clov and the two waiting men. I mentioned also that the three characters would speak selected lines from his plays in the collage, and that the Chorus would sing, and Clov would speak, passages from Worstward Ho. Beckett gave me permission to proceed, with brief but kind words of encouragement.
"Deliberately understated work of this kind, with a few props and costumes, needs to invest much emotion in the spare and significant… Director Akemi Horie and Simon O'Corra with set and lighting succeed in bringing out the poetry of these immediately appealing pieces charged with a tension and resonance belying their apparent simplicity…" Gerard van Werson, The Stage Werson in full
"These three plays endeavour to make 14th century Noh theatre modern and universal: there are no masks and two are performed in modern dress… The third piece Journey is an amalgam of three Beckett plays, which is incredibly strong although quite hard to discern the Noh input. Fine performances, and worth seeing." Nina-Anne Kaye, City Limits Kaye
"This profound piece is striking for its sombre philosophy and vibrant poetry, both expressed with quiet strength and atmospheric elegance…" Brian G Cooper, The Stage Cooper
Performers: Ruth Posner (Komachi), Martin Lawton (Chorus, Didi), Richard Tyrrell (Priest, Clov), Stephen Webber (Priest, Gogo). Musicians: Amanda Broome (soprano); Rowland Sutherland (wind instruments & drums). Direction & choreography: Akemi Horie. Music: Ho Wai-On. Lighting & Set: Simon O'Corra. Costumes: Dawn Allsopp. Translation of Komachi text: Arthur Waley.
Performed at Theatre Musium, London, WC2; Komachi also at ICA, London SW1; Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London EC1
Vatzlav A satirical farce by the Polish playwright Slamomir Mrozek, riotously performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Vatzlav, a shipwrecked runaway slave, is washed up on the shore of a capitalist colony ruled by the raspberry-sucking Mr Bat and his dysfunctional family. Forced to impersonate a bear, Vatzlav fights off each peril with streetwise ingenuity, turning young Justine/Justice into a striptease performer and himself into a capitalist entrepreneur along the way. Then comes the revolution -
77 short scenes were performed at a rapid tempo, like a comic strip, with the actors moving portable scenery, cardboard trees, stools etc., setting their own scenes. Vatzlav Stills
"A rich experience, a web of spreading images… The small cast of Cambridge Actors Workshop conjures up a remarkably complete caricature of society. The piece is loud and colourful and has an engaging tendency to shoot off in all directions while retaining a sort of loony unity. Zany…" Colin Currie, The Scotsman
"The Actors Workshop in Cambridge staged Waclaw (Vatslav) at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I wish to emphasize the full success achieved by this ambitious and talented young group of actors. In large measure this is due to the work of the director, Akemi Horie, a Japanese lady, who with unusual sensitivity managed to penetrate the strange atmosphere intended and created by the author… the result of which has been not so much a philosophical play but a clever sharp political satire." Tadeurz Ziarvki, The Polish Daily (translated from Polish).
Performers: Bruce Addison (Vatzlav), Beatrice Braude (Lackey), Nicholas Frankau (Sassafras), Robin Frost (Quail, Genius), Eithne Hannigan (Justine), Craig McConnell (General Barbaro), Mavis Mitchell (Mrs.Bat), Stephen Reed (Mr.Bat, Oedipus, Executioner), Richard Sisson (Bobbie). Direction: Akemi Horie. Designs: Sarah Percy-Lancaster. Lighting: Ian Larkin. Sound: Nick Brown. Performed at Corn Exchange, Cambridge; Walpole Hall, Edinburgh.
Three Sisters The late Chekhovian plays, though still rooted in Naturalism, contain the seeds of modern Absurdist visions which culminated in the works of post-modern writers such as Beckett, Ionesco and Arrabal. Indeed the thematic parallels between Three Sisters and Waiting for Godot, and The Cherry Orchard and Endgame are remarkable. Chekhov seems to be exploring new directions.
In Three Sisters in particular, Chekhov is experimenting. Observe the loose episodic structure of the play; the metaphors - flowers, wintry wind, fire and dead trees - defining each Act; the heightened almost grotesque characterization of Andrey, Natasha, Soliony and Koolyghin; the way seemingly unrelated lines, asides, and bursts of laughter in the background comment on the main action on stage, like a Chorus. And mythical 'Moscow', like Godot, hangs over the entire play. It is as though the Naturalistic form is disrupted by Chekhov's apparent impulse to create a concrete Absurdist vision on stage.
In this production the sunny flower-filled opening scene is progressively stripped bare as the play moves towards a bleak landscape of fading hopes. Performed with the minimum décor, without four walls, without intermission, bringing forth the bare essentials of the play.
Olga Knipper (the author's wife and the first Masha) recalls in her memoir that when Chekhov gave the first reading of the play at the Moscow Arts Theatre in October 1900, the dismayed actors reacted that the play was only a "sketch" or "outline" with "no fully developed characters." Chekhov, smiling in embarrassment and coughing intensely, responded that he had only written "a light-hearted comedy." Stanislavsky (the first Vershinin) also recalls that Chekhov was convinced that the play was incomprehensible and destined to fail. Three Sisters premiered on 31 January 1901 at the Moscow Arts Theatre. The initial press response was mixed: "a major event", "too pessimistic and hopeless", "puzzling indistinctness of plot and character motivation" - somewhat reminiscent of the press reception that was to greet the premiŹre of Waiting for Godot half a century later.
"I loved it - it was so well-laid out before me; I felt there was so much going on. Your production has converted me to this play, for the first time, even though I had already seen several productions…" Letter from Paul Chand, critic (Stage) and friend.
SLIDE SEQUENCES ACT1 - IV Sisters Slides Show
VIDEO CLIP: Irena Crisis Act lll QuickTime streaming. Recorded at Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler's Wells, London EC1
Performers: Silas Hawkins (Andrey), Ruth Bennett (Natasha), Michaela Burgess (Olga), Sarah Montague (Masha), Josephine Peer (Irena), Garry Scanlan (Koolyghin), Leslie Aston (Vershinin), Tim Mitchell (Toozenbach), Andy Blacksmith (Soliony), Richard Gofton (Chebutykin), David Hallen (Fedotik, Rode), Stephen Bateman (Ferapont), Ruth Posner (Anfisa). Translation by Elisaveta Fen. Direction: Akemi Horie. Designs: Anabel Temple. Lighting: Ian Watts.
Resonances of Passion A programme of two Noh plays, pairing the medieval classic Izutsu by Zeami (1362-1443) with a modern western counterpart, The Dreaming of the Bones by W.B. Yeats.
Izutsu (The Well-Stone) recounts the tale of a woman whose spirit remained attached to the locus of her passion centuries after her death. A chance encounter between a young woman and a pilgrim monk at an old well in the abandoned temple grounds unfolds the drama.
The heroine, Ki no Aritsune's daughter, was a 9th century historical figure. Her lover, Ariwara no Narihira (825-880), was a poetic genius, renowned also for his handsome and amorous persona. Their poems appear in the anthology Kokinshu, compiled in 905. Several of the love poems they exchanged are woven into the play. As Zeami tells it, the old well was where the two once played together as children.
In The Dreaming of the Bones (1919) Yeats uniquely applies the Noh formula to a political subject - the historical roots and aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising. A young Nationalist fugitive meets a mysterious couple when lost in the mountains. He has fought in Dublin and will be shot if he is caught. The couple offer to guide him to safety, but they want something in return - something he cannot or will not give.
The mysterious pair are revealed to be Diarmuid MacMurrough (1100-71), King of Leinster, and his lover Devorgilla, wife of the Lord of Breifne. As the legend has it, their fatal passion led to MacMurrough’s banishment. He fled to England and, licensed by Hentry II, enlisted volunteers and invaded his own country, capturing Dublin in 1170. The Anglo-Norman occupation of Ireland remained until well into the 20th century.
Yeats was greatly inspired by the Noh theatre via his young friend Ezra Pound. Here the urgent political theme is given a poetic aspect with its mythical dimension drawing on old Celtic beliefs. The play was not performed until 1931 because of its political content, which Yeats himself feared might be "too powerful".
Performed with the minimum of décor, six actors and two musicians (wind instruments and percussion). The Irish composer Paddy Cunneen created the music for both plays through exploratory workshops.
Programme notes on plays, authors & history
"On the floor of the deep, wide stage, ropes outline a square, and inside this a small block decorated with grasses represents a grave, and a larger, white block the well-head - and in the Yeats play the summit of a mountain in County Clare. The restraint of the settings may sound austere but their precision gives all we need to know. On one side of the square sit the musicians … The unshowy grace of Justin Allder's Diarmuid and his queen (Amanda Rachael Lee) as they sedately dance, arms almost touching but separated by grief, gives this production its sorrowful grandeur … I have never before experienced so convincing an expression of the tensions and beauty of this exotic genre."
Jeremy Kingston, The Times Kingston in full
"Yeats, himself aiming at a meeting of East and West, was remarkably well served. Poetry flared briefly in our imaginations, and in its reflected glow theatre came gloriously alive." Nicholas Dromgoole, The Sunday Telegraph
"The staging is simple and incredibly pure, the performers creating just exactly the right degree of stylization for their performance, able to make the poetic text both believable and appropriately symbolic… Paddy Cunneen (composer) has really crafted a Britten-like opera… The sound hovered creatively between Japanese and Western styles (with fantastic playing of Japanese instruments) creating a multi-cultural, kaleidoscopic experience. The direction stands out as peculiarly restrained yet eloquent - simple images and extraordinarily slow pacing made the experience almost like a meditation, possibly a little austere, but utterly clear and focused …" Arts Council of England
VIDEO CLIPS QuickTime streaming. Edited in part. Recorded at The Place Theatre, London WC1
Izutsu 5 Comic Interlude (silent, double speed)
Performers: Amanda Rachael Lee (Young Woman), Justin Allder (Villager, Stranger), Reg Eppey (Chorus/Baritone), Richard Gofton (Monk, Chorus/Tenor), Walter Van Dyk (Narihira, Chorus/Tenor), Andy Wisher (Young Man, Chorus/Bass). Musicians: Clive Bell (wind instruments & electric harp), Malcolm Ball (percussion). Direction, design, choreography: Akemi Horie. Music: Paddy Cunneen. Lighting: Simon Bennison, Neil Fraser. Costume, props: Jess Curtis. New translation of Izutsu by Richard Gofton with Akemi Horie
The Choephori (The Libation Bearers) An exploration of the second play of Aeschylus' trilogy The Oresteia. In his version of the myth, Orestes and Electra are impressionable youths, uncertain and fearful of their god-ordained mission, the revenge killing of Clytemnestra, their mother. They must rely on the guidance of the Chorus, themselves enslaved Trojan women who can only give voice to their own passion, the forces of Nemesis within.
In this performance the Chorus, when voicing the law of vengeance, speaks in the original Greek, a language that youthful Orestes and Electra do not comprehend. Indeed the unfamilliar words and sound of it frighten them. But inevitably, word by word, they begin to copy the alien phrases. And finally the invocation of Agamemnon’s wrath at his grave site propels them to cry out in the language of Nemesis. By the time they carry out the kiilng, they are fluent in it.
"The chilling intensity of the drama with the remorseless chanting of the Greek chorus and the stark imagery of the huge net of death is both compelling and engrossing…"
Brian Cooper, The Stage Cooper in full
"Akemi Horie's production makes explicit this metaphor of enmeshment. Various contrasting nets envelop the stage and are used to good effect… Quite a lot of the original Greek is retained, combined with the fluent Chicago translation. It is most impressive when being intoned by the chorus of bitter slave women, especially where they urge on Electra and her brother to revenge. The harshness and foreboding of the intonation is matched by the almost aggressive asymmetry of the positioning of actors on stage (How refreshing not to see a static chorus) and the atonality of the accompanying Tibetan music (which is reminiscent of the African music in Pasolini's Oedipus Rex)." Cambridge University Broadsheet
Choephori Stills Cambridge & London productions, with a different cast.
Performers for the London production at ICA & Lillian Baylis: Laurissa Kalinowsky (Electra), Peter Kenny (Orestes), Julia Righton (Clytemnestra), Christopher Brown (Aegisthus), Martin Lawton (Agamemnon), Joolia Cappleman, Liz Dickinson, Philippa Luce, Ruth Posner, Deborah Shipley, Joyce Springer (Trojan Women). Direction, design & choreography: Akemi Horie. Lighting: Ian Watts. Costume: Jacqueline Fitt.
Kesho & Toki no Gake Two contemporary Japanese plays representing the two contrasting streams of modern Japanese Theatre.
In Kesho (Make-up), Hisashi Inoue (1934-2010), writing in the wholely home-grown literary tradition, weaves an ingenious mono-dialogue probing the mind of actress-manager Satsuki, head of a strolling kabuki troupe - a dying tradition in contemporary Japan.
In her dressing room, she is making up as the young outlaw hero she is about to play. She is alone on stage, talking to her actors apparently off stage. As she begins to rehearse her lines, moving in and out of the play within a play, the story of the young outlaw, searching for his birth mother, and her own story of a long lost son, begin to intersect, with the borderline between what is real and fictional becoming increasingly blurred. The invisible characters Satsuki led us to believe in now appear only figments of her imagination.
As the raucous cries of demolition men off-stage intrude on her make-believe, the evening seems no longer routine. It seems that she was play-acting by herself all along, in an abandoned theatre about to be bulldozed. Her time is up. Kesho Stills
In Toki no Gake (The Cliff of Time), Kobo Abe (1924-1993), representing the post-modern vision, spins out the fragments of thoughts that pass through the mind of a young boxer as he fights in the ring. His mind's monologue floats over the noise and commotion of the fight, interrupted now and then by his trainer's urging voice, which momentarily jolts him back to the bout at hand. The boxer fights on the cliff of time up to the fourth round, then it seems he is finished. The acclaimed author of Woman of the Dunes (film version Cannes Palme d'Or), Abe wrote this short piece for his trilogy Bo ni Natta Otoko (The Man Who Turned into a Stick). His writing is often compared to the works of Kafka, Arrabal and Ionesco.
Kesho "The lights go up on a dressing room and the recumbent form on the floor of Yoko Satsuki, the actress-manager of a band of strolling players who keep alive the faded tradition of popular kabuki style period melodrama. With a scratch of her bottom, she awakes to prepare for her role as Isaburo, a young outlaw hero… The dividing-line between the play and the play within the play is so skilfully blurred that the two lives frequently meld into one." John Coldstream, The Daily Telegraph
Toki no Gake "On a darkened stage the only objects visible are a red punch-bag, a line of vertical ladders and the spot-lit head and shoulders of Richard Tyrrell playing a young boxer steeling himself for the fight he must win or forfeit his vital ranking. The thoughts he speaks alternate between foolish hope and panic, unconsciously humorous (a balance neatly achieved in Donald Keene's translation) and dreamily poetic. The shadows of his boxing fists flicker at the periphery of the spot-lit area but the gathering drama is measured in the subtle changes in Tyrrell's face (imagine Kafka with a grin) and his feverish nerviness of voice." Jeremy Kingston, The Times
"A brilliantly clear, economical style" Paul Chand, The Stage
Performers: Jackie Skarvellis (Yoko Satsuki), Richard Tyrrell (Boxer), James Ramsey (Voice)
Direction: Akemi Horie. Designs: Jan Blake. Lighting: Tina MacHugh.
Translations: Toki no Gake by Donald Keene; Kesho by Akemi Horie, published with Notes on the Background of Kesho in Encounter No.5, 1989.
Performed at Bloomsbury Theatre, London WC1
One Night or Day A short film inspired by three works of Samuel Beckett, Stirrings Still, One Evening and Krapp's Last Tape. In particular Krapp's evocative passage recalling the end of a love affair on a sunny lake initiates the core narrative.
Krapp has kept a record of his life's events on 16mm films. In his dotage he lives alone surrounded by piles of loose filmstrip - fragments of his life - and spends his days laboriously rewinding them back onto their reels. On this particular night or day, he comes across the alluring image of a young woman in a boat on a sunny lake. Memories flood back, and her enigmatic smile lures him out onto the street and to the lake, apparently the locus of their last rendezvous.
The camera follows the old man’s real or imagined journey to the lake. Shot in black and white with an Arriflex 16mm camera.
Key Passages from Krapp's Last Tape, Stirrings still, One Evening
One Night or Day video, digitally edited abridged version, single sound track.
Performers: Phyllida Bannister (Young Woman), Richard Gofton (Old Man), Ruth Posner (Old Woman).
Writer/Director/Editor: Akemi Horie. Director of Photography: Deena Lombardi. Assistant Camera: Zac De Santiago.
Japanese Theatre and the West An International Theatre Symposium, aiming to promote creative interactions between the Japanese and Western theatres. Organized for the Japan Festival 91 in association with the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, and the Japan Research Centre, SOAS, University of London. The meeting assembled leading scholars and artists in the field from sixteen nations, with Jan Kott (Poland), Georges Banu (France), Leonard Pronko (USA), Nicola Savarese (Italy), Zvika Seper (Israel) and Yasunari Takahashi (Japan) among the contributors. Also participating were three performing companies, Pohlyboveho Divadla (Czech Republic), Umewaka Noh Troup (Japan) and Workshop 5 (UK). The four-day event held at the ICA comprised a programme of lectures, demonstrations, workshops and performances.
The proceedings were published by Harwood Academic Publishers in 1994, as a special edition of Contemporary Theatre Review, Japanese Theatre and the West, edited by Akemi Horie-Webber
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