The Japan Society, a non-profit dedicated to fostering understanding between Japan and the U.S. through arts and culture, has an innovative commissioning series in which they ask an American artist to create a performance based on some aspect of Japanese culture. Jeremy Wade's
is one such commission. Wade, an American director and choreographer, trained in Amsterdam and currently living in Berlin, is a rising light of the international dance and performance art world, having won a Bessie Award for his first full-length work,
There Is No End to More
, a multi-media performance art piece with both dance and theatrical elements, is an examination of Japanese kawaii (cute) culture - the aspect of Japanese culture that fetishizes all things cute and childish. If you are not familiar with the concept of kawaii and its central place in Japanese culture, it is difficult to explain - it includes anime, objects, and fashion and is taken to a level that we can hardly conceive as Americans, for instance, the friend who came to the show with me lived in Japan during a Little Bo Peep craze in the 90's, when adult women went about their daily lives dressed in full Little Bo Peep garb (including full-sized staff). I lived in Japan for a few months as well, and although I didn't see any Bo Peeps during my time there, I still remember the shrill sound of "Kawaii!!" when anyone, usually schoolgirls with impossibly high voices, saw or did something cute.
There Is No End to More
takes kawaii culture as its jumping off point, but ultimately it is an examination of something much more universal, the grotesqueness and distortion of the world as only a child can view it. The piece affectingly captures the sensory onslaught and disorientation a of childhood lived in a consumerist culture, and the sadness and pain inherent in the experience of growing up that then gets projected onto the cute, fluffy, and pastel world in which we encase our children. Wade, in the talk-back after the show, stated that when conceiving the piece he set out to create to "a fucked up and sad children's TV show." He succeeded.
Much more than a single person's vision, There is No End to More
, is a great example of a fruitful collaboration between artists. The video by Veith Michel and the animation by Hiroki Otsuka are beautiful, shocking and delightful in turns and provided much more than a backdrop for the performance. The sole live performer, Jared Gradinger (also credited as a creator), interacted directly with the projected images both physically and in dialogue in some of the most evocative sections of the piece. The text of the piece, created by Wade, Gradinger and Marcos Rosales and mostly piped in as voice-over, and a soundscape by Brendan Dougherty, also played a major role in the piece, at times overwhelming Grandinger's presence on stage. The set, by Henning Stroh, a white angled backdrop on which video and animation were projected and an exaggeratedly tall doghouse immediately recognizable as Snoopy's (that also doubled as a podium), as well as the lighting design by Andreas Harder which added tremendously to the emotional and sensory impact of the piece, were also integral to the experience. Wade proves himself a skilled director not only in the vision and sensibility of the piece but also in his choice of collaborators and his ability to shape so many visions into a unified whole.
Although the three-day run at the Japan Society is now over, the piece (which was well-received in Berlin and will be running in Paris and possibly Japan this winter), is worth seeing if you happen to be doing any jet-setting in the next few months. Otherwise, keep your eye out for Wade's work in the future. It is innovative, though-provoking and manages to be fun and disturbing at the same time, much like a grown woman dressed as Little Bo Peep. Kawaii!!
(The three-day run at the Japan Society is now over, but be sure to look out for other innovative programming at the Japan Society, japansociety.org
, and future work by Jeremy Wade, jeremywade.de