Tuesday 27 August 2019

Less can sometimes be more: Verity Lane's 'The Crane' at the Grimeborn Festival

Verity Lane: The Crane - Grimeborn Festival
Verity Lane: The Crane - Grimeborn Festival
Verity Lane The Crane; Hester Dart, Tomoko Komura, Mirei Yazawa, Kiku Day, Beibei Wang; Grimeborn Festivala at the Arcola Theatre
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 22 August 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A Noh Theatre-inspired multi-media opera installation

Variously described as a "mystical opera" and a "multi-media opera installation", Verity Lane’s production of The Crane at this year’s Grimeborn Festival, a lacework of images, movement and music, takes inspiration from Noh Theatre with a certain amount of cross-cultural pollination. The company is made up of performance artists and musicians from Japan, Denmark, China and London with the animator Rowan O’Brien hailing from Ireland. The music and libretto, both English and Japanese, is by Verity Lane.

At the Arcola Theatre performance of Verity Lane's The Crane on Saturday 24 August, the Crane was Mirei Yazawa, the Old Lady and Old Man were Hester Dart and Tomoko Komura. The ethnomusicologist Kiku Day played 'Japanese flutes' and Beibei Wang percussion. The chorus were Kasia Andrzejewska, Rebecca Hoodless, Dominic Mattos, Rekkha Ray and Holly Slater.

Verity Lane: The Crane - Grimeborn Festival
Verity Lane: The Crane - Grimeborn Festival
Now, there’s no way I can even pretend to have any knowledge of Japanese aesthetics or the art of Noh. So, before we go anywhere, I must apologise for any misnomers or crass assumptions. What I do know about the Japanese aesthetic is rather tangentially linked to an appreciation of Toshihiro Hamano and the works of Karlheinz Stockhausen and Benjamin Britten. So - slim pickings, but I’ve always found the simplicity, grace and tranquillity incredibly affecting.

The Crane is taken from Japanese folklore, the story of Tsuru no Onegaeshi or Crane’s Return of a Favour. The crane, shot down by hunters, is rescued by a man. To return the favour the crane appears in human form and secretly weaves beautiful cloth which the old man is able to sell at the market. When she repeats the process she warns him not to disturb her but the man’s curiosity gets the better of him. Having had her true identity discovered, the crane is obliged to fly away. In short, the more you want something the more it eludes you.

It began with Rowan O’Brien’s strikingly beautiful animation with the hypnotic flute playing of Kiku Day and we were gradually introduced to the players; Mirei Yazawa’s diaphanous winged crane was restrained and elegant, The Old Man and Woman both controlled and precise and all the while music and movement are woven together. The chorus moving sometimes in synchronicity with expressive asynchronous intonations while they, Tomoko Komura, Hester Dart and the percussionist Beibei Wang interwove with the action and visuals.

There were so many ideas competing for my attention and not having the lexicon to comprehend the nuances I found it dizzying. I longed for a little more sensory focus. And there, for me, was its basic problem as a unified piece. Vocally the rhythmic patterns, pitch only being dictated by low medium or high, occasionally tipped into cacophony and bizarrely the inclusion of English jarred. Not that I want to diss my own language, but in this context its comparative inelegance rattled my ears and the spell that they were casting broke. That said, I’m glad I went; but sometimes less is more.
Reviewed by Anthony Evans

Verity Lane: The Crane - Grimeborn Festival
Verity Lane: The Crane
Grimeborn Festival
Arcola Theatre
Saturday 24 August 2019
The Old Lady : Hester Dart
The Old Man / Narrator : Tomoko Komura
The Crane : Mirei Yazawa
Shakuhachi : Kiku Day
Percussion : Beibei Wang
Chorus : Kasia Andrzejewska, Rebecca Hoodless, Dominic Mattos, Rekkha Ray, Holly Slater
Animation : Rowan O’Brien
Director / Designer : Verity Lane
Choreographers : Stephanie Daw & Mirei Yazawa
Lighting : Nao Nagai

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