"...a visually and aurally gorgeous production and with outrageously capacious, perversely genius performances..."
- Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Infinitebody
"curl my toes with glee"
- Helen Shaw, Time Out New York
"an impressively integrated vision... hypnotic drama... with flash, expansive gestures and show business flair."
- Jason Zinoman, New York Times
"Five Days in March" by Toshiki Okada is set in the days before the U.S. began its war against Iraq in March 2003. Minobe meets Yukki at a rock show. Their awkward conversation leads to five days of wild sex in a love hotel. Azuma sells Miffy a ticket to a bad movie. Miffy thinks Azuma doesn’t return her feelings, so she decides to move to Mars. Yasui and Ishihara go on the anti-war protest. The police escort’s uniforms elicit more comment than the war itself. Oblivious to the imminent invasion of Iraq, these hipsters obsess over the details of their lives, perfectly capturing the irony and impotency of Generation Y in Japan today. The story unfolds through actors who slip in and out of character while also narrating and playing out scenes. The play, a winner of the prestigious Kishida Kunio Drama Award, is at once funny, sad, anticlimactic and devastating.
Witness Relocation, under the direction of Daniel Safer, will create an American version of this story using an English translation by Aya Ogawa, making it resonate for an American audience by applying their unique, pop-culture dance/theater methodology to it. Witness Relocation’s productions combine dance and theater with the energy of a rock show, exploding contemporary culture into intensely physical, outrageous, poetic, and sometimes brutal performances in order to question the assumptions of the modern day experience. This unique fusion of forms connects Witness Relocation to Okada and his noted Japanese performance troupe, the chelfitsch company. Both are known for crossing and combining disciplines and for being equally adept at theater and dance. The New York Times wrote that Witness Relocation’s work “aggressively blurs genres and makes high-low culture distinctions obsolete.” This production of "Five Days In March" will be no exception.
The production will feature a cast of seven and music composed by Dave Malloy.
Witness Relocation (www.witnessrelocation.org) was formed in 2000 and has performed at The Ontological, La MaMa, Danspace Project/St. Mark's Church, The Ohio Theater/Soho Think Tank (in the Koltes NY Festival and the award winning Ice Factory Festival), Clemente Soto Velez, The Revolutions International Theater Festival (NM), Dixon Place, NYU and Patravadi Theatre, Bangkok. Past projects between members of Witness Relocation include productions at Dance Theater Workshop, the Currican Theater, and Baltimore Theater Project.
In 2006, La MaMa presented Witness Relocation in "Dancing vs. The Rat Experiment." It was an original dance/theater based in part on the 1960's Scientific American article "Population Density & Social Pathology" by John Calhoun, concerning overpopulation in rats; "Survivor"-style competition reality TV shows; and drinking games. The work was controversial and polarizing, but it won three Innovative Theater Awards and gathered its share of powerfully affirming reviews.
Kelina Gotman wrote in Performing Arts Journal, "Witness Relocation's 'Dancing vs. The Rat Experiment' was like going to your first punk rock concert in the 1980s. It was raw, it was racy. If it was hard to follow at times, it was too lively for that to matter. The company has been compared to Pina Bausch, Richard Foreman, and the Wooster Group, but Witness Relocation's mobilization of the element of uncertainty, the sheer physical vitality of the performers, and the mixture of genres puts them more in line with the Andrei Serban, Jan Fabre, Frank Castorf, and David Bowie."
Hilton Als wrote in The New Yorker, "Ellen Stewart of La MaMa has helped launch the careers of Sam Shepard, Tom O'Horgan, Andrei Serban, and Candy Darling. It is a pleasure to add a new company - Witness Relocation - to Stewart's roll call of magnificent acts.… While influences are clear - the genre-mixing works of Pina Bausch, Richard Foreman, and the Wooster Group are definitely in evidence - there is plenty of originality here, too, as well as youth, joy, vulgarity, and an ironic distance from the media saturated world that inspired the show."
In May, 2008, the company unveiled its "Vicious Dogs on Premises" at Ontological Theater, in association with the Ontological-Hysteric Incubator. Drawing on an animal metaphor, the piece riffed on the concept of Choice Overload. Five performers followed five separate lists of instructions, tasks, and options in a joyously blinding matrix of dances and improvisations guided by an offstage Dan Safer, who presided over the show with a buzzer and a stopwatch. Time Out (Helen Shaw) labeled it "avant-vaudeville, conducted with brio and a cheery disregard for the fourth wall," declaring that "Everyone has a grand time (including the absurdly charming performers)" and that the troupe "feels so comfortable with radical techniques--borrowed from icons such as the Wooster Group and John Cage--that they can redirect them into pure frolic. It's liberating and silly, and their aesthetic forebears might even find it an awfully fun reunion."
Last season, the troupe performed "The Blue Bird" by Mikuni Yanaihara, translated by Aya Ogawa and Kameron Steele, at Clemente Soto Velez (CSV), 107 Suffolk Street. The play, directed and choreographed by Dan Safer, was a Japanese postmodern adaptation of Maurice Maeterlinck's "The Blue Bird" (1908), transformed into Witness Relocation's rough-and-tumble style of physical theater. Eva Yaa Asantewaa reported in her blog, InfiniteBody, "There's a thin line between zany and hysterical, and Witness Relocation -- award-winning physical theater of multi-genre collage and excess -- tramples that line with manic abandon….Consider this one an assignment. Go!" The New Yorker (Goings On About Town) called it "ultimately inspired and fun." Time Out (Helen Shaw) wrote, "thank heavens for Witness Relocation, a bunch of nuts who think that expressionism should be a wahoo with beer and wigs, and actors cracking up during the dance breaks." That production was followed by "Haggaddah" at La MaMa, an explosive retelling of the Passover Seder. Culturebot declared, "Haggaddah rocks...Safer has created what will come to be seen as a seminal work in the history of Jewish theater."
Dan Safer (Artistic Director) originally hails from New Jersey and has helmed every Witness Relocation show. His work has been presented at La MaMa, DTW (four consecutive seasons), Patravadi Theatre (Bangkok), Theater Krudttonden (Denmark), the 2007 CUNY Prelude Festival, Dixon Place and Danspace Project. He has choreographed operas, rock videos and fashion shows and has written a seven episode serial play with Pulitzer winner David Lindsay-Abaire. He performed with Ridge Theater, Jane Comfort, John Moran, Mabou Mines, the Blacklips Performance Cult, Hong Kong choreographer Dick Wong and others. Safer founded and directed the Bangkok Performance Boot Camp. He is faculty at NYU and teaches workshops across the US and Internationally. He received a 2007-9 Six Points Fellowship (Performance) from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and won two NY Innovative Theater Awards last year. He used to be a go-go dancer and once choreographed the Queen of Thailand's Birthday Party.
Toshiki Okada (playwright) was born in Yokohama in 1973 and formed the theater company "chelfitsch" (always spelled with a small "c") in 1997. He has practiced a strange sort of methodology for creating plays. Even though he employs some, he nevertheless makes a point of "not getting too comfortable with a particular methodology or holding on to one style to the point where it holds him back." He has been using slangy Japanese, for which he has become famous since March 2001. The unique choreography, another hallmark of Okada’s plays from then on, endows the actors with "noisy" corporeality. In 2005, "Five Days in March" (2004) won the 49th Kishida Drama Award. The judges praised Okada's work for the powerful questions it posed to the discourses of theater and for the fresh ideas the playwright used when turning his sense of dissatisfaction into a work of art.
Okada has also been acclaimed for the skills he has displayed in carving out the elusive state of things in contemporary Japan. Through the manipulation of the actors' bodies, Okada creates peculiar corporeality, which sometimes seems to - and at other times does not - exaggerate our everyday gestures. For this reason, his choreography has been compared to dance by some critics. In fact, Okada participated in "Toyota Choreography Award 2005: Discover the Choreographer for Next Generation" with "Air-Conditioner" (2005), making it to the finals. An original concept of the body that he eloquently articulated in the work defied the conventional idea of "choreography," taking the contemporary dance scene by storm. In September, 2005, Okada won Yokohama Cultural Award/Yokohama Award for Art and Cultural Encouragement. As the representative of his country, he took part in "Stuecke'06/International Literature project in the course of the Football World Cup 2006." In December of the same year, he produced "Enjoy" at New National Theatre, Tokyo. He has also served as the director for 2006-2007 "Summit", an annual drama festival hosted by the Komaba Agora Theater (General producer: Oriza Hirata). In February 2007, his collection of novels, "The End of the Special Time We Were Allowed," debuted and was awarded the Kenzaburo Oe Prize. As a director he has directed Beckett’s "Cascando" for the Tokyo International Arts Festival - Beckett Centennial Memorial Festival, and Kobo Abe’s salient work "Friends" at the Setagaya Public Theater. More recently, he also directed a workshop production of "Strangeness" with local actors at the Itami Ai Hall in Hyogo prefecture and "Ghost Youth," a collaboration with students of Obirin University. He also wrote a new play, "Three Women" for director Naoto Takenaka.
Aya Ogawa (translator) previously collaborated with Witness Relocation's Daniel Safer on "The Blue Bird" by Mikuni Yanaihara. She is a writer, director, performer and translator. Her play "Serendipity" was winner at Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival (1996) and finalist at Humana Festival at the Actors Theater of Louisville. Her "Eating Dirt" was produced at SoHo Rep (1999) and she directed it for Theaters Against War at HERE (2003). She directed her play, "A Girl of 16," in its world premiere (2003) and "pictures of the drowned" at NYTW’s 4th Street Theater (2005). In 2005, with her collaborators, she has formed a performance company called knife, inc. (www.knifeinc.org). She wrote and directed the world premiere production by knife, inc, " oph3lia," at HERE Arts Center in 2008 (it was nominated for Outstanding Ensemble, New York Innovative Theater Awards). Her latest play in development, "ARTIFACT," was presented at PRELUDE ’07 Festival as well as in the PERFORMANCE MIX Festival in 2009 at the Joyce Soho. She has been commissioned to translate numerous Japanese plays into English, including works by Pappa TARAHUMARA’s Hiroshi Koike; Yoji Sakate (Rinkogun Theater Company); Shirotama Hitsujiya/YUBIWA Hotel; Kobo Abe; and Takeshi Kawamura. She translated Frozen Beach by Keralino Sandorovich, which she directed as a reading in 2008 at Japan Society. She has translated many plays by Toshiki Okada into English including "Five Days in March," "Air Conditioner," "Hot Pepper" and "Free Time"; she also translated "Enjoy" by Okada for its English language premiere to be produced by The Play Company in 2010. She is a Usual Suspect at NYTW and has been an Artist in Residence at HERE.
Dave Malloy (composer) is a composer/performer/sound designer/musical director/pianist. He is the winner of a 2009 Jonathan Larson Grant and a recipient of the 2009 NEA/TCG Career Development Program for Theatre Directors and Designers. His most recent large-scale work, "Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage" commissioned and produced by Berkeley's Shotgun Players, enjoyed sold out runs in Berkeley and NYC, received the 2008 Glickman Award and appeared on the Best of 2008 lists of every major Bay Area paper (including two #1 spots). "Beowulf..." is Mr. Malloy's seventh collaboration with BB&B, a Brooklyn based collaborative ensemble that has won numerous Fringe awards, 4 IT Awards nominations and places on two Time Out New York Best Of lists. Mr. Malloy has written five full length musicals, including "Clown Bible," a gypsy-jazz infused telling of biblical stories from Genesis to Revelation told through clowns ("Best Play of the Year" and "Best Music of the Year," East Bay Express 2007), and "Banana Bag & Bodice's Sandwich," a Weillian mishmash about eating animals. Other notable shows include "(The 99-cent) Miss Saigon" for Ten Red Hen's, a shoe-string adaptation complete with a toy helicopter on a zip line, for which Mr. Malloy was musical director, pianist and Chris.
Set and costume design are by Deb O. Original Music is composed by Dave Malloy. Sound Design is by Ryan Maeker. Lighting design is by Jay Ryan. Projections are by Kaz Phillips.
“Five Days In March” has funded from the Japan foundation New York Office.
by Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody
So, back in January of last year, when I gave you an assignment to see Dan Safer's Witness Relocation troupe, did you follow through?
I hope so, because now you have a fresh assignment: See Dan Safer's Witness Relocation.
Okay, that might not sound so fresh, but listen up: This time, they're at La MaMa's Ellen Stewart Theater, doing a very American take on Aya Ogawa's English translation of Toshiki Okada's wacky Five Days in March. I saw this 2004 piece performed in Japanese (with English subtitles) by Okada's chelfitsch Theater Company at Japan Society. I reviewed that show here in February 2009.
As good as chelfitsch's show was, in its way, Safer's spoken-English, American pop-culture version opens up, punches up and clarifies Five Days with a visually and aurally gorgeous production and with outrageously capacious, perversely genius performances by Mike Mikos, Sean Donovan, Wil Petre, Heather Christian, Kourtney Rutherford, Chris Giarmo and Laura Berlin Stinger. I think that's because Witness Relocation--a company devoted to seamless theater/dance mashup--was made for this meta-tale of young, self-absorbed party-people in Japan recounting a five-night "love hotel" tryst conducted while Dubya was getting ready to wreak havoc on Iraq. WR brings out both the callous, mindless excess and the poignancy in Okada's story. Safer's direction and choreography; Dave Malloy's music; Jay Ryan's sets and lights; and Deb O's costumes are all award-worthy.
Luckily, you've got a few more weeks to get there. The show runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2:30pm through May 23. (No performance on Sun 5/16, Added 2:30pm performance on 5/22)
Time Out New York Review
by Helen Shaw
Is this trend like when everyone in Hollywood decides, simultaneously, that the time is ripe for a comet disaster movie? Because people, we’ve got a streak. Toshiki Okada, the Japanese author of last month’s mischievous Enjoy , is back with the endearing Five Days in March —also translated by Aya Ogawa, also directed with an eye toward physical theater. This time it’s Dan Safer taking on Okada’s slippery storytelling, in which characters phase-shift between identities and tenses while trying to decide where to begin their tale.
We do eventually understand that, during the run-up to the Iraq War, two strangers have gone tumbling into a five-day, anonymous orgy. Elsewhere, a lonely girl (Heather Christian) dictates her diary, and much discussion of the joys of bad movies is had. Buoyed by Dave Malloy’s puckish electronic score, Okada seems sweeter, funnier and less ritualistic than he did in Enjoy , despite a turn to overtly political and sexual elements here. Again the writer bombards us with the stop-and-go rhythms of actual speech, but cast members such as Wil Petre and Kourtney Rutherford interpret his false starts as adorable flakiness (adding to the sense of lightness), rather than slacker bummertude. Safer—a choreographer and purveyor of low-fi mayhem—tries to keep his natural ebullience in check, at first simply parading his actors up to a microphone in front of a silvery foil curtain. Luckily, though, he soon slips the leash, hauling in set elements and Christian’s fall-on-your-knees version of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars.” Okada’s needling naturalism has its clarifying pleasures, but it took a final-act dance break to make me curl my toes with glee.
Strangers Find Solace from Riots Against U.S.
by Jason Zinoman, New York Times
In the distinctive world of the Japanese playwright Toshiki Okada, actors do not perform a scene so much as circle it warily, introducing their roles, narrating and commenting on them, comparing notes on what happened before finally settling into a yarn.
“So I’m thinking we’re going to start this ‘Five Days in March’ thing but ...” is how this new one begins.
This familiar fourth-wall-busting trick can seem a little strained, but it’s part of an impressively integrated vision that includes dense, fragmented language woven in with themes of alienation and disengagement.
The excellent production of “Enjoy,” Mr. Okada’s portrait of underemployed slackers bantering in a cafe, that finished its run at 59E59 Theaters this month, located an emotional core by rooting the play in a certain hyperrealism. In “Five Days in March,” a similarly hypnotic drama set in Japan during the prelude to the Iraq war, the director Dan Safer pushes the material in a more theatrical direction, making it more broad and alive, if less deeply felt.
The main story line is about two strangers, Minobe (Mike Mikos) and Yukki (Kourtney Rutherford), who meet randomly at a club, check into a hotel and sleep together for five days while rigidly policed protests about American aggression rage outside. They are not looking for sex and love so much as an elusive real experience. Or as Minobe explains with a typical tentativeness, “I think that as a memory, there’s a high probability that it will be one of those that flash before your eyes before death, I think.”
It’s easy to imagine a minor-note tone for this contained little anti-romance, but Witness Relocation, a company based in New York that tours internationally, emphasizes the self-consciousness of the writing in a very American way — with flash, expansive gestures and show business flair. Mr. Mikos is a supremely charming actor who finds every laugh in the script and many that aren’t. And his character’s explanation of why he likes bad movies may seem like a tangent, but it encapsulates the desperate and ridiculous need for something meaningful that characterizes the young people in this play.
But something is sacrificed by hamming it up in front of a shiny curtain in dramatic poses. The play can be a little glib. Then again, its presentational aesthetic underlines how these searching characters treat life like a performance: for the world and for each other.
And in a way, the stark contrast with “Enjoy” is an argument for the playwright, new to most New York theatergoers, since it proves that his work is not only flexible enough to translate to different cultures and languages but also to artistic styles.
Five Days in March Tracks Tokyo Hipsters in Time of War
by Jacob Gallagher-Ross, Village Voice
Where were you when the bombs started dropping on Baghdad? The hipsters in Toshiki Okada’s surreal Five Days in March—now being staged by Witness Relocation at La MaMa—were hanging out and hooking up, attending desultory protests and grappling with quiet conflicts. For these bystanders to history, events occurring elsewhere charged an otherwise humdrum swathe of time with strange significance.
Okada’s five days span the last hours of the Iraq war countdown, and the barrage’s onset, in March 2003. Amid the upheaval, six young Tokyo denizens enact minor-key versions of geopolitical events. In the play’s main thread, Minobe and Yukki meet at a club and repair to a love hotel for the next five days—a sexual shock-and-awe campaign—before parting without ever exchanging names. Meanwhile, Miffy, a blogger flummoxed by insecurities, fails to “conquer” Minobe’s friend Azube during a fraught encounter. Two others follow the anti-war protest that wends through all the narratives—but carefully stay near the back, far from scary activist-types.
The performers step in and out of multiple characters—offhandedly narrating into a mic, then slipping casually into scenes. (A miracle of transposed idiom, Aya Ogawa’s translation captures the studied nonchalance of New York cool-speak.) The relay style suggests that these slackers could be anyone. Meandering conversations and glancing liaisons happened all over the world as destruction began: the background noise of history. Juxtaposing world-changing events with private crises heightens the pathos of characters’ small triumphs and failures—evanescent, like performance.
Director Dan Safer’s choreographies beautifully embody this idea, finding enlarged meanings for quotidian gestures: two performers shifting in chairs becomes a unison dance showing a transitory meeting of minds; staging the psychic turmoil wrought by a minor romantic crash-and-burn, Safer amplifies awkward twitches to melodramatic pitch.
In a stunning flourish, Miffy resolves to leave human foibles behind, blasting off into the stratosphere—cueing a plaintive silver space–suited rendition of Bowie’s “Is There Life on Mars?”
During the piece’s hushed final moments, Minobe and Yukki say goodbye against a projected photograph of a busy Japanese street. Till now, we’ve heard their story through shaky recollections, but as it ends, we fleetingly see their farewell unfold in real time, in a real place—and then they’re gone. For a second, their ephemeral travails acquire epic scope—as big as any battle or disaster.