The Annex

January 29 - February 8, 2009
Thursday - Saturday at 7:30pm
Sunday at 2:30pm

Tickets $25

Directed by Kenji Kawarasaki
Company EAST from Japan

"...the show is completely entertaining"

Backstage Pick! "...this Tokyo-based troupe's highly stylized production..."

Tokyo's acclaimed Company East returns to New York with a unique adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Director and choreographer Kenji Kawarasaki's production, which blends traditional eastern techniques of Noh with modern western dance to produce culturally rich dance-drama, begins performances on January 29 at La MaMa ETC.

Based on the Buddhist ideas of love and death and the spirit of Zen, Company East's HAMLET  faithfully follows Shakespeare's original plot. Hamlet is away at University when he hears that his father has suddenly died, and his mother has married his Uncle Claudius. He is recalled to Denmark where he seethes, consumed with grief and anger. Haunted by the ghost of his father, Hamlet becomes obsessed with the idea that his uncle murdered his father and that his mother has been disloyal, and that he must avenge his father's death. The production incorporates six video projectors that will display both words and images, making the experience truly multicultural and accessible for Japanese and English speaking audiences alike.

The title role will be played by Hiroshi Jin, an internationally acclaimed actor and dancer best known for his ground-breaking, gender-bending performances in roles including Lady Macbeth and Salome. The cast also includes Sho Tohno, Yoko Tomabechi, Yuji Koide, Barnardo, Mutsutaka Jin, and Daisuke Kaji. The production features video design by Yoshiaki Takano, lighting by Jin Nakayama, and production management by Yoshifumi Seo.

Company East  was created by Hiroshi Jin, Kenji Kawarasaki, and Yoshifumi Seo in 1990 to to foster international artistic and cultural exchange.  Their production of Medea toured Greece in 1996 and became the first Oriental company to perform at the ancient ruins of Cyprus. It won Favorite Show in the Rarunaka Festival in 1997 and was once again invited to perform for the Japan Greece Friendship centennial in 1999. In 2002 the company toured to the Avignon Festival in France and The Edinburg Festival with Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, based on the novel by Mishima. Their 2004 production of Salome at the Edinburgh Festival earned Five Stars from The Scotsman newspaper.  Company East will premiere HAMLET in Japan in April 2009.

NYTheatre.com review
by David Fuller

East most emphatically meets West in the Company East adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet, currently running at La MaMa ETC. A fusion of eastern Noh theatre and western modern dance, loosely wrapped in the story of Hamlet, this production is both a visual feast and an aural challenge. The visuals keep you enthralled despite the significant language barrier to those who do not understand Japanese.

Most of the dialogue in this 80-minute piece is spoken in Japanese, with a smattering of English now and again to help keep the audience on track with the storyline. More help to non-Japanese speakers is lent by the occasional video projection of supertitles.

Kenji Kawarasaki, the artistic director of Company East and the director/choreographer for this Hamlet, utilizes La MaMa's Annex Theater to full effect in an environmental, exciting, sometimes surprising and always engaging way. Though it certainly helps to know Shakespeare's play, even without that pre-cognition the tale of a reluctant avenger goaded into action only after profound loss is clearly there, engrossing and palpable.

You may not understand everything you see, and the guttural utterances in Japanese at full volume may get a bit wearing, but on the whole the show is completely entertaining. There is a Greek tragedy feel to the piece, with the dancing and movement and stentorian speaking, yet this is not pejorative, as Kawarasaki keeps things moving and holds the audience's attention.

He is helped immensely by the video design of Yoshiaki Takano and the lighting design of Jin Nakayama. Six video projectors display images as well as the aforementioned words in concert with lighting that transforms the space sometimes beautifully, sometimes breathtakingly, and always in support of the story while adding key elements to the whole.

The company of six actors, five men and one woman, works as a true ensemble and manages to get the story of Hamlet told, minus the subplots, in an amazingly concise time frame. Hiroshi Jin, as Hamlet, leads the ensemble skillfully. At times his performance is reminiscent of Oedipus railing against the Fates, but in the context of this production it seems appropriate. The others are also excellent in multiple roles, with notably memorable characterizations of the Gravedigger by Mutsutaka Jin and of Ophelia by Yoko Tomabechi.

The program states that Company East "takes pride in taking the lead in creating and introducing to the world a new Japanese and Eastern artistic culture that sublimates the values of both East and West." Indeed, since their inception in 1999, they have performed worldwide. New York is fortunate to have this company here, albeit for a brief stay. In this new age of hope and optimism for a better world, it is great to see this successful mix of cultural styles. Jin perhaps best exemplifies this emerging era when he appears with the company at the curtain call holding a sprig of cherry blossoms, and states in heartfelt terms how art can bridge cultural gaps. There is a real joy to this production. See it if you can.

Backstage Review - Backstage Pick
by Lisa Jo Sagolla, Backstage.com

You'll want to brush up your Shakespeare before going to see Company East's fabulous 85-minute adaptation of Hamlet, which exhibits Noh theatre, butoh, and modern-dance influences. The more familiar you are with the character relationships and inner workings of the plot of the Shakespearean tragedy, the better you will be able to appreciate this Tokyo-based troupe's highly stylized production, which infuses Hamlet's story with Zen and Buddhist concepts.

Directed and choreographed by Kenji Kawarasaki and starring company leader Hiroshi Jin in the title role, the show focuses primarily on conjuring a dark and frightening atmosphere that frames, fuels, and reflects the disturbed thoughts and emotional states of the central characters. The major events of the story are often enacted very quickly, and little emphasis is placed on spelling out specifics. Yet if you're cognizant of the play's particulars, you'll appreciate the way the details are subtly referenced and absorbingly abstracted throughout the evening.

The six-member cast, all of whom are marvelous actors, make abundant use of their well-trained voices, dynamically speaking the Japanese text and punctuating action scenes with a wide variety of dramatic roars, wails, and hollers. While English-language quotes from Shakespeare's play are projected on a video screen above the stage, they appear too infrequently to constitute translations and serve mainly to identify each new character or narrative sequence. With elegantly formed letters animated against eye-catching colored backgrounds, the video projections (by Yoshiaki Takano) could stand alone as stylish works of visual art.

The grand aesthetic appeal of the overall production is enriched by Jin Nakayama's eerie lighting effects, a terrifically creepy uncredited musical score, and striking costumes (also uncredited) made of multiple layers of long, flowing garments. The presence of so much fabric on stage -- the set is essentially a collection of draped curtains -- brings a seductive warmth to the proceedings that mediates the horrifying nature of the tale and welcomes us into this cathartic Eastern interpretation of Hamlet's famous tragic arc.

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