EnTrance created and performed by Yumi Umiumare at The Street Theatre, Canberra. June 30 – July 2, 2011.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
Under the spotlight: Yumi Umiumare
MiNDFOOD talks to Yumi Umiumare as she prepares for her solo performance "EnTrance" at [this] year’s Oz Asia Festival.
Aug 03, 2009
“This is my first time performing a full-length solo show where I incorporate all the elements of my art. There are short segments for each style and towards the end I perform a Butoh segment with my face painted white, so it is like I am returning to my roots.”
“I first came to Melbourne in 1991 with the Butoh company Dai Rakuda Kan, which is the oldest Butoh company in Japan. We were invited to perform for the Melbourne International Arts Festival. I met a lot of people in the arts community at the time and started visiting regularly between 1991 and 1993. I moved permanently in 1993.
I lived in Tyoko before and while it is an exciting and stimulating city it is also very busy. In Melbourne there is more space, more of your own space. I found artists have more freedom to develop their own style and ideas.”
“For EnTrance I’m working with media artist Bambang Nurcahyadi, installation artist Naomi Ota and sound designer Ian Kitney, so while I was initially scared about doing a solo performance I realized the other artists were supporting me.”
I’ve chosen these quotes from this interview two years ago because I think they help us to understand Umiumare’s work. A friend commented after the show, “She’s a work of art.” I agree, and so felt I needed to know something about her, particularly why she had moved from Tokyo to Australia, as well as knowing something about the Japanese radical dance form, butoh.
First though, she had no need to be scared tonight. Her focus, discipline and originality held the audience for 75 minutes, confirming the reputation she brings from 20 years’ worth of stage and film work in this country. I have seen her only twice before, in Ngapartji Ngapartji at Belvoir Street in 2008 and in The Burlesque Hour in 2009 here at The Street. There could not have been a greater contrast between her gentle role in the story of Pitjantjatjara man, Trevor Jamieson, and her frantic satirical mime of frustrated glass-ceiling shattering modern womanhood in Burlesque.
EnTrance begins seemingly at peace in a garden with her cat, but quickly leads to the horror of living at the mercy of a huge city, which I have taken to be Tokyo. Experiences there include seeing her mother’s face as she leaves her son, “Yumi’s” brother, in hospital to die. The character, of course, may not actually be Yumi, but the identification with the mother’s feelings, expressed in butoh style, seems terribly real. Who would want to keep living, if you can call it that, in such a city?
Butoh developed as a response to the occupation of Japan after World War II and it seems to have become a tradition for its practitioners to leave the city to, in a sense, return to the origins of Japanese culture in the country. As I thought about this and recalled the final scene of EnTrance, a connection seemed to form – or what Yumi has called a ‘chain’. She writes, “In EnTrance, each section is interconnected through a ‘chained world’ in which a new world opens up, one to the other.”
As she moves into the ‘pure’ butoh style, naked and whitened with rice flour, the screen behind shows a body of water on which her image floats and in which it is reflected – in the tradition of “the two worlds of Life and Death” described as “two shores; one is ‘the near shore’ (the world of the living), and the other is ‘the far shore (world of after-death)”. But this water is an Australian billabong, with old gum trees on the banks and Australian birds calling.
In that final scene there is a feeling of freedom, perhaps as Yumi Umiumare experienced in moving permanently to Australia, and in the ending, represented in the form of the overwhelming light described by those who have had a near-death experience, there is a sense of satisfaction, of completion. So for me at least, EnTrance is a work of art by an artist at work, successfully achieving what she describes as “the moment of transformation where the spirit and the body are propelled into another world or existence”. Which is, of course, the nature of true theatre.