Noriyuki Sawa is a master Japanese Puppet
Theater now living and working primarily in Prague. He will make his New
York debut September 23 to 26 in La MaMa's Puppet Series Festival with
"Legend of the Forest," a series of short plays inspired by
ancient Japanese legends. In 1999, Sawa was awarded the Franz Kafka Medal
for the performance of this production and for his global activities.
With the La MaMa Puppet Series Festival, the formative East Village
theater once again takes its place as a leading US entry point for artists
from around the world, and where the international influence on New York
artists is most on display. This festival features US premieres of multicultural
works from India, Poland, Bali, Japan and the Czech Republic. One production
is a significant revival: the series culminates October 7 to 10 with "Motel,"
the puppet play of "America Hurrah," Jean-Claude van Itallie's
trilogy, which was originally presented by La MaMa in 1965 and is now
widely regarded as the watershed Off-Broadway play of the Sixties. The
festival is supported by The Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater
and utilizes all three of La MaMa's performance theaters.
In "Legend of the Forest," a wounded soldier battles between
life and death while lying unconscious in the forest. As he lies on the
ground, a woman in white lures the wounded soldier skyward, attempting
to leave his wounded body behind in the forest. He contemplates whether
to leave his wounded body or return to it, but at last he decides to return
into his body and awakens. Miraculously, the deep wound is healed and
he starts to walk the forest again as a soldier. Sawa is the author, director,
designer, puppetmaker, musical director and actor of the piece. This play
will be accompanied by some other small pieces by Sawa in the La MaMa
In 1999, The New Zealand Dominion called the show a "combination
of stunningly beautiful Czech puppets and Bunraku puppet theater [which]
creates a production made in heaven. It is eerily beautiful, intriguing
and extraordinarily well performed." The puppets of Sawa's repertoire,
which reveal a fusion of stylistic influences, can be viewed on-line at:
The show has the feeling of an old Village performance from the Noh period.
It combines puppetry, music and movement; the only spoken text is the
introduction read by Nori Sawa before each piece in English. The stage
is black and simply decorated with colorful Japanese material that makes
the piece look like an old village performance in Japan. The plays are
punctuated by cello and harpsichord pieces composed and played by Czech
and other European musicians.
Noriyuki Sawa is a member of Nihon-Unima and Union Internationale de
la Marionette. He is an instructor of Damu at the Academy of Performance
Arts in Prague. He has been working in Europe since 1991 with the support
of the Japan Foundation and the Cultural Ministry of the Japanese Government.
In 1993, he appeared in "Tower of Babel," a project co-produced
by the Institut Internationale de la Marionette, Charleville-Mezieres,
France and Damu-Prague, Czech Republic. In 1994, he was a commentator
and performer in a High-Definition TV program in the International Puppetry
Festival of France, produced by NHK (Public Broadcasting Association of
Japan), which was broadcast in 1995 and 1996. He was the subject of an
autobiographical documentary TV program, "Wandering Macbeth,"
produced by C.A.T. Praha (Prague) in cooperation with NHK, which was broadcast
on Czech national TV Channel 2 in 1996.
Sawa has toured with his shows to Paris, Berlin, Budapest, Athens, New
Zealand, Italy and Finland, among others. He also taught workshops in
various countries with Petr Matasek of Theatre Drak. In 1998, he designed
masks, puppets and scenic effects for "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,"
produced by Tokyo Public Theatre. Last season, he produced and co-directed
the international project, "A Plague On Both Your Houses!,"
an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" in collaboration
with Theatre Drak and The Japan Foundation, and organized its tour to
Europe and Japan. The show was presented into the Bath Shakespeare festival,
England in March 2002.
Sawa's recent awards include The Grand-Prix of the International Puppetry
Festival in Pecs, Hungary for "A Plague on Both Your Houses!"
His theatrical repertoire also includes "The Story of Macbeth,"
a solo mime theater work with masks and puppets, and "Pieces,"
a collection of mime-theater works for children.