Visiting the Theaterfestival:
Professor Tadashi Uchino of the Department of Intercultural Studies at Gakushuin Women's College in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
We are very pleased that Professor Tadashi Uchino will be a guest at this year's Theaterfestival and will write reviews in English for us on selected productions.
Tadashi Uchino received his PhD in Performance Studies from the University of Tokyo in 2002. He was a professor at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (1992-2017) and was appointed professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo (2019). He is currently a professor at the Department of Japanese Studies, Faculty of Intercultural Studies, Gakushuin Women's College. His publications include "The Melodramatic Revenge" (1996), "From Melodrama to Performance "(2001), "Crucible Bodies" (2009), and "The Location of J Theatre "(2016). Uchino has been a member of many Japanese scholarly societies and is currently an editor at TDR (Cambridge UP).
Sharing an Identity Category of Tamil as TOJISHA with the Power of Storytelling
Who has the right to tell a story of “real” suffering and tragedy? In recent years, the question of representation has been haunting any kind of representational medium from the controversy regarding Claude Lanzmann’s SHOA (1995) to a more recent issue of non-traditional casting. To put in very bluntly for the sake of this review, the question is; how is it possible for us not to exploit others’ suffering and plight, and not to make money out of it.
MY NAME IS TAMIZH (Tamil in English spelling) is a straightforward and contemporary response in terms of theatrical representation to this long-time haunting question. The work is a collaborative effort with three actors with Tamil background. Sankar Venkateswaran, a theatre maker/actor, living in Kerala, India, Nicholas Kirutharshan, an art manager/actor living in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and Kavita Srinivasan, an architect/actor living in Katmandu, Nepal. There is another important collaborator in terms of text curation, Leow Puay Tin, a playwright living in Malaysia.
The performance starts with its director Sankar explaining about how this theatre project came about. The first encounter with a complex relationship with Tamil as one of his identity categories, was when he discovered there is a Tamil language radio broadcast, the Voice of Tigers, in Switzerland when he was an artist-in-residence in Zurich. That would lead to thinking about the theatre work that was to be realized as MY NAME IS TAMIZH, as he became very aware of increasing numbers of diaspora communities of Sri Lanka Tamils abroad, because of the civil war (1983-2009).
In the case of Kavita, an Indian-Tamil, who grew up in Bangalore, India, and Zambia, Papua New Guinea, and Chennai, India before going to the US., the Tamil identity was something that she had to learn as one of her identity categories. She had to learn, for instance, the language in Zambia. And it was not till she traveled from southern part of Sri Lanka to Jaffna in 2002 that she came to realize atrocities of the war. In the performance, she talks about her “adventure” in going through devastated remains of the bombarded landscape and dealing with Tamil Tigers female soldiers. Through this very precarious yet enlightening experience, it seems Kavita had acquired an embodied sense of Tamil-ness. Yet, in other scenes, she talks more about her plight as female and her skin color.
Her story in the performance is that of embodied reenactment of intersectional identities and what that brought to her: an Indian-Tamil traveling through Tamil Tigers’ occupied territory, pretending not to be able to speak Tamil; being surrounded by Tunisian men, during her travel abroad, because of her gender and her skin color; going through an absurd process of getting the visa at Swiss Embassy in Katmandu for coming to perform in this production.
In the case of Nicholas, his story is directly connected to Sri Lankan civil war as a person brought up in Jaffna and as the one who still works there. Yet, he had to GOOGLE about the decisive incident of the burning of Jaffna Library in 1981; the library was one of the largest in the region and was a symbol of Sri Lankan history.
Nicholas’s father was forcibly displaced from Jaffna to a different city, but Nicholas goes to school in Jaffna and even participated in the protest for keeping the burnt remains of the library in 2003 or 2004.
Especially frightening yet moving of his tale is his father protecting the Tigers when the search party came to his house and was beaten badly by them. It was a slip of Nicholas’s tongue—he was only three or four years old—at the solders knew they were harboring the Tigers.
As such, each actor is acting as herself/himself. Each has a strong Tamil background, but not necessarily with Sri Lankan Tamil tradition. Each has produced their own text and through a very productive creation process the written text (curated by Leow Puay Tin). Each is rather young and is not the direct participant or victim of the civil war. In other words, they were not TOJISHA in the following sense of the word.
Originally developed in a legal context where it referred to the ‘parties’ in court proceedings, in the 1970s TOJISHA was taken up by citizens’ groups campaigning for the right of self-determination for the ‘parties concerned’ facing discrimination and has become a central concept for all minority self-advocacy groups. (emphasis mine)
Or are they? Are they “‘parties concerned’ facing discrimination?” Are they self-advocating? Yes and no. Surely and literally, they are performing “the right of self-determination.” That is what the art does.
It is the power of language that defines the strength of MY NAME IS TAMIZH with minimal movements and little fancy effects. It is the power of storytelling; how they tell the story with their voice, gestures and movements. This does not mean the work was like a well-mannered stage-reading. It was something much more, something brilliantly conceived and embodied by the three self-determined actors/TOJISHAs, willing to share an identity category of TAMIL with each other and with the audience members. And I would suggest we all admire and respect that.
Theatrical Fields of Self-reflexivity Calling for a Full Activation of Dynamic Visual Acuity (and the Brain)
This is one of series of very quick reviews I am writing for Theaterfestival Basel.
I am staying in Basel between 24 and 31 August so I can only be the first part of the festival. I hope, however, to put up short reviews, perhaps a bit longer than SNS-type “impressions,” but a bit shorter and maybe less detailed and informed than traditional newspaper reviews. I will be posting one or two days after I see the performance at the latest.
Mariano Pensotti’s Los Años (The Years) seems, at a first glance, dangerously simple and sentimental. The story is basically about a father-daughter relationship in 2020 and 2050 and what happened between them (even before the daughter was born) around the two periods. See the short yet adequate introduction on the HP of the festival for example.
This performance tells the story of a documentary film-maker who, 30 years after his breakthrough, attempts to make sense of his relationship with family and friends.
If the story were set between 1960 and 1990, it had come to have completely different reverberations. It is set in 2050; that is the core of Pensotti’s theatrical genius. how the work jumps from a linear story-telling of a somewhat typical middle-class father-daughter relationship to something completely “experimental,” which enable us think much deeper into complex layers of that main story-line. Thus the entire narrative is from a perspective of the daughter in 2050. She is sometimes outside of the enacted narrative and at other times inside of it, acting out her present self and/or her past self (or the memory of it). And the same actor even acts as her mother in most of the 2020 scenes, though in reality she was in her mother's belly then.
The set itself is divided into two; the stage-right is 2020 and the stage-left is 2050. Even the subtitles are divided into two. German subtitles are posted where the current action is happening, while English subtitles are posted on the other side.
For those who do not read German (like myself), reading English subtitles on the other side where the action is not happening can become a nuisance, but for me at least it didn’t. Surely my eyes had to move from left to right and right to left so fast as if my dynamic visual acuity is being tested. Well, it was till towards the end when, sometimes, the separate set becomes one as the other side is folded that I could see the English subtitles just under the German one (or the other way around?) This change is not tentative, and the flow of the narrative supports the temporary transformation of the location of the subtitles (and the folding of the half of the stage.)
As a result of all of the above (and much more), "The Years" emerges as an unprecedented space of complexly interwoven layers of future possibilities, memories and political implications. The space above all else becomes very personal yet very public at the same time. It’s not simply “the personal is the political;” what unfolds before our eyes is something much more moving (in both senses of the word). It is a carefully planned and artistically constructed field of finely-tuned self-reflexivity by and for the part of the characters in the play, and maybe the creators themselves. In short, it is a very good piece of dramatic theatre, that rare species in the age of post-dramatic tradition.
Weitere Texte von Tadashi Uchino werden hier in den kommenden Tagen fortlaufend aktualisiert.