Body Poetry The Japanese Way

At the end of May, after two years of waiting and preparation, UT Viljandi Culture Academy, where I study dance pedagogy, received faraway guests from Japan to learn and experience theatre the Japanese way; namely, the Taichi Kikaku Theatre Company ran a two-day workshop and gave a performance.

The workshop offered us a chance to feel the warmth of our own hands, listen to the person next to you without having to say anything, and laugh as a child. This method is called shintaishi, or body poetry.

Shintaishi (Body Poetry) workshop

The art of listening at the body poetry workshop. Photo by Urmas Volmer.

The workshop was led by Yosuke Ohashi and two more actors from the Taichi Kikaku theatre company. It was astonishing to see that these three artists have worked together for thirty years and there was still a note of dedication in their work.

Our workshop started with big welcome smiles and introductions. We all got our name tags – in Japanese. The workshop was structured as a set of different exercises with lectures in between.

Despite being very physical, this experience was rather spiritual for me. This theatrical method, so to say, builds bridges between the audience on the border between unconsciousness and consciousness. It is more than just feeling the warmth (chi-energy) between our hands.

We also came across a language barrier. Perhaps the time which was spent describing exercises could have been used more economically. Luckily, our bodies helped to make clear even the most difficult word or thought. One clear information ‘database’ is the face and it’s amazing how expressive the faces of the Japanese group were. When they performed, their bodies carried the story.

Shintaishi (Body Poetry) workshop

Body poetry the Japanese way. Photo by Urmas Volmer.

Perhaps this spiritual exercise with its inward-oriented look and innocent, childlike laughter was a bit too sudden, especially for younger participants. On the other hand, it was a terrific feeling when a group of people felt each other’s warmth and were ‘breathing as one’. These things have a priceless value, because you can get to know yourself in unexpected ways.

Later in the evening the same theatre group performed a play entitled “Friend 2012 ~ soul mate ~” in our school’s black box. The play premiered in Tokyo in 1997.

When you compare Asian and European theatre, the difference is great. For me, the biggest difference lies in using one’s body. In Asia the actor’s body is more static and they change poses very suddenly. Also, they communicate a lot with their faces, through the grimace. It’s like slow motion with expressive faces, which alternate after a quick change of pose.

The performers, Yousuke and Lumiko, carried the audience with laughter and sad moments throughout the play; there were well-known jokes and moments when the upcoming events were fresh and innovative. For example, I liked their hats illuminated from inside – a wonderful effect on a dark stage!

The performers spoke very rarely, keeping the stillness on stage with that magical chi-energi, and made noises. It was a kind of no-theatre. Playfulness is my word to describe the play, which actually carried a deeper message.

As the play summary had it: “An enormous number of people have been separated from their family, relatives and friends by the catastrophic earthquake on March 11, 2011. This ironically reminds us of the very simple but important idea: We never live without ties with others.”

Overall, the body poetry workshop gave a lot, even though some might think it similar to selling air. I think it’s more about how much one is ready to look inside. At some point, the temporal dimension felt very different, but it was nice to travel to Asia, led by the Taichi Kikaku Theatre. Perhaps more time is needed to get more than just a general knowledge of body poetry.

Shintaishi (Body Poetry) workshop

Working on an exercise. Photo by Urmas Volmer.

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