The play is interdisciplinary, using elements
of theater, music and dance. It portrays Japan in one of its most turbulent
times of transition, from the Edo period to the Meiji period, when Western
ideas clashed or were integrated into Japanese tradition. Hikoma Ueno
is pictured as a chemist possessed by photography, who refined a formula
for developing a picture (wet plate) as part of his search for perfection
in artistic expression. The playscript has been developed by Watoku Ueno
and the Yara company, using historical Japanese sources on Hikoma Ueno
and fragments from Soseki Natsume's "Ten Night's Dreams." There
is a cast of seven. The show is performed in English and Japanese, in
the signature Yara style that permits all audiences to understand.
Hikoma Ueno, the son of Ueno Shunnojo, was born in Nagasaki, the only
Japanese city open to Westerners. His father was a scholar of Western
studies and was famous for producing potassium nitrate and for making
calico. The Ueno family had painted portraits for generations. While Hikoma
was learning chemistry from the Dutch navy surgeon Julius L.C. Pompe van
Meerdervoort, he became interested in photography. He developed his own
process for wet plate photography and opened Japan's first photography
studio in 1862.
Self portrait of Hikoma Ueno, 1903, one year before his death
Hikoma's work was artistically outstanding, but commercial success was
slow to build for him. Initially, his subjects were foreigners, since
there was considerable suspicion and resistance on the part of Japanese
toward being photographed. This changed during the war of Meiji Restoration,
when rebel leaders flocked to his studio to have their images preserved,
in anticipation that they would be killed in battle. He is most renowned
for a studio portrait of Sakamoto Ryoma, one of the leaders of the Meiji
Restoration. In 1874, Hikoma took a picture of Venus, the first photograph
of a planet taken in Japan. Three years later he photographed the Seinan
War, the first battle photographs in Japan. He is also known for his photos
of temples and other traditional sites, and for his landscapes, which
included interesting views of Nagasaki.
Director Watoku Ueno has designed set and lights. A founding member
of Yara Arts Group, he has co-directed and designed most of Yara's 15
productions and is an NEA/TCG award-winning designer. He is not descended
from the famous photographer. He was drawn to this subject through his
own experience with theatrical photography, his interest in East-meets-West
themes, and his interest in the personality of an artist who is also a
technician. He is also fascinated by this period of Japanese history,
when culture and revolution flowered together.
Photo of Ryoma Sakamoto by Hikoma Ueno, 1866. This photo of a Samurai
revolutionary leader is possibly Ueno's most famous photograph.
Founded in 1990, Yara Arts Group, a resident company of La MaMa, creates
original pieces that explore timely issues rooted in the East through
the diverse cultural perspectives of the group's members. Yara artists
are of Asian, African, Eastern and Western European ethnic origin. They
bring together poetry, song, historical materials and scientific texts,
primarily from the East, to form what one critic described as "extended
meditation on an idea." The company has created eight pieces based
on materials from Eastern Europe including: "A Light from the East,"
"Blind Sight," "Yara's Forest Song," and "Swan."
The New York Times (D.J.R. Bruckner) called one of these pieces, "Waterfall/Reflections"
developed with folk singer Nina Matvienko, "a theatrical enchantment
given cohesion by choreographed movement and by music on a prodigal scale."
Since 1996 Yara has also created seven theater pieces with Buryat artists
from Siberia. The Village Voice (Eva Yaa Asantewaa) called "Circle"
as a World Music-Theater work with artists from the Buryat Republic at
La MaMa in the spring of 2000, "a stunningly beautiful work (that)
rushes at your senses, makes your heart pound, and shakes your feelings
The actors are Nick Bosco, John Chou, Yuriko Hoshina, Ai Kiyono, Yoshiro
Kono, Kazue Tani and Robert Torigoe.
Assistant director is Jun Mochizuki. Photo projection is by Makoto Takeuchi.
Costume design is by Luba Kierkosz. Composer/violinist is Storm Garner.
"Sundown" is being made possible, in part, by public funds
from the New York State Council on the Arts. For more information check
the calendar on Yara 's web site at www.brama.com/yara/.