Into the Abyss: Fusion to the Max

Janos Gereben on September 25, 2012
Janelle Ayon, masked, in <em>Mystical Abyss</em> Photos by Charline Formenty
Janelle Ayon, masked, in Mystical Abyss
Photos by Charline Formenty

Japanese Noh, Iroquois creation legend, Aztec mitote, Mexican folkloric dancers, a Catalan actor, Mohawk dancers, and more ...

That's the stuff of Mystical Abyss, a cosmic tale from Yuriko Doi. The founder-director of Theatre of Yugen is pulling together a wide range of talent from various disclipines, to produce a fusion of Japanese dramatic arts, Native American legends, Noh choreography, and world theater. Performances are scheduled in ODC Theater, Sept. 27-30.

The work ends with Sky Woman, of Iroquois legends, falling into the void, birds and animals breaking her fall, until she lands on a giant turtle and creates the continent of North America. Doi doesn't think small.

Appropriately enough, Mystical Abyss is presented as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival's 10th anniversary. The script is by John O’Keefe, the work is choreographed by Japan's famed Noh master Shiro Nomura. His son, Masashi Nomura, portrays the goddesses Izanami and Amaterasu, who make their own cosmic journeys, to the accompaniment of flutist Narumi Takizawa and drummer Yoshio Ueno.

Mohawk dancers and singers Kenny and Roger Perkins are joined by Aztec mitote performance artist Cuauhtemoc Peranda and Mexican folkloric dancers Jesus Jacoh Cortes and Janelle Ayon. Catalan-American actor Lluis Valls plays the roles of the Turtle and Narrator.

Masashi Nomura, masked, in <em>Mystical Abyss</em>
Masashi Nomura, masked, in Mystical Abyss

Japanese CG animators Taketo Kobayashi and Koya Takahashi are responsible for images inspired by prehistoric Japanese Jomon art to complement Renta Kouchi’s set. Noh masks are by Hideta Kitazawa.

Doi says Mystical Abyss is "an intellectual yet widely accessible theatrical work that evokes powerful images of unity and harmony across different generations, cultures and traditions." The message of this "cyclical story of death and re-birth," Doi says, is the "quest for balance" between good and evil.

Besides Theatre of Yugen and the festival, a co-producer of the work is the U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network.

There are commonalities between Japanese and Native American cultures — such as respect for ancestors, deeply embedded spirituality and love of nature — but apparently Doi is the first to explore these connections in a work of art. After a long career of focusing on Japanese Noh and Kyogen, she started working with Native American material in 2001, creating a work about Crazy Horse.

At age 70, Doi says this is her final major theatrical production: "I have spent my life building bridges across false divides, and as a mother, who hoped for a better world for her children. I see Mystical Abyss as a metaphor for our need to be reborn, to go back to the beginning and move forward on a path of peace and respect for our world and each other."