Thursday, 6 March 2014

Five paintings of Kylian's Kaguyahime

My five paintings of Kylián's Kaguya-hime

The ancient Japanese legend of the ravishingly beautiful Moon Princess - Kaguya-hime (also known as the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter), set to music by Maki Ishii, was made into a modern ballet in 1988 by choreographer Jirí Kylián. Here's a link to the story (too long to be told here) and the link to the complete eighty-minute ballet (a must-watch).

Kodo drummers and Circle Percussion combined forces with Gagaku wind players and dancers of the Netherlands Dance Theater in a rhythmic and mysterious performance of dance and light. This was perhaps Jirí's ultimate Gesamtkunstwerk, later performed in Montreal and (twice) in Paris, conducted by Michael de Roo, the percussionist who played a leading role in the original production. 

Completely entranced, I sat in at rehearsals and performances (at times even standing in the pit surrounded by the drummers!) to create five paintings from this theatrical modern ballet. I used watercolour and oil pastels, and sometimes a spoon to scrape out lines in the wet paint. As you watch the ballet, you will recognize each of my paintings. Yet they are not mere snap-shots - I have transformed Michael Simon's stage and lighting design and Jirí's choreography into my own.
Like Jiri, for many years I have been attracted to and influenced by Asian aesthetics and philosophy. It has affected my choice of brushes, brush technique and pictorial design (Here's a link to my blog The Asian Connection). The origins, the music, choreography and design of this piece made it quite natural for me to use my brushes in a way that you might call calligraphic, where the gestures and marks of the brush follow a spontaneous inner choreography, an urge to arrange marks on the space of the white paper in a way that reflects the characteristics of the subject, yet becomes a design in itself.  
At the bottom of the paintings, you might notice some of the rhythms my brushes have followed, especially the village dances or percussive battle sounds coming from the pit, where you see the conductor at work, or ethereal fragmented scratchings. Also identifiable are the dancers and the drummers, the massive draped and knotted black cloth, the arrangements of the little black make-up boxes, the giant Odaiko drum that doubles as the moon.
Above, white-clad villagers fight with the emperor's soldiers in black to "possess" Kaguyahime, accompanied by macho percussionists who leap up onto the stage to compete with crescendi against each other.
The Emperor arrives,  enshrouded in a mass of shimmering golden parachute-silk, into which the Princess becomes temporarily entwined. But inevitably and sadly, she must return to her natural habitat, the moon, as we are dazzled by a wall of mirrored (moon) light. What an overwhelming experience!


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