Dunstan Playhouse, Sat Sep 13
Something of enormous delight in attending a show within OzAsia is the tantalising unknown, and this show was no different. Expect the unexpected…
Calligrapher and artist Hiroko Watanabe takes to the stage, which is starkly set, and plainly lit, to engage with the audience without a word of English, but through the expressive and passionate strokes of her calligraphy brushes, which she paints for us, her spellbound audience.
Japanese band Above The Clouds are an act in themselves, at times ethereal and hypnotic, and veering towards almost hard rock, they captivate us with their combination of Japanese Taiko drums as well as contemporary drums, and various effect pedals used with their electric bass and guitars. Also purely instrumental, it is only at the end you realise the absolute non-verbal element and the reality that it is not necessary for us to be totally engaged with, and immersed within, the world of another.
Hiroko sits, at times staring, and the guests (we feel like that rather than paying audience members) strain to understand her expression and what she might be thinking about. The point of her performance in painting her beautiful stark and precise calligraphy strokes is that there is no actual point other than to marvel at the precision, detail and energy that goes into her art.
You get the feeling that this is how she may paint at home, with a very loud band playing on her home system and her thoughts tumbling down onto paper like wounded birds.
It is intriguing to watch, for as she paints she can appear to be wantonly random about her art, and then at times painstakingly careful. The fact that her art is naturally in Japanese and at no time are we privy to what she may have actually written, the meaning is not in the meaning of the written words. Rather, in fact, the lack thereof. The calligraphy is based of course upon the original Kanji symbols which originated by illustrating the actual form a word may take on. This is present in what she shows us, and at times you can make out perhaps a meaning of your own, much like finding a shape in the clouds as you watch them drifting by.
It is a humbling experience to watch an artist – a very well-known and revered artist in her native country – at work in a style that one may not have witnessed. To have the powerful ambience of the traditional and contemporary drumming, in a fusion of jazz and age old rhythm, is hypnotising and dreamlike.
This performance is unlike anything I have ever seen, and is achingly beautiful and fascinating to watch and listen to. The only slight flaw was that the sound engineers in the Playhouse were not at their peak ability, but maybe the largeness of the sound and the diverse moods of the music were challenging to deal with. The band themselves were of the highest calibre and unbelievably thrilling to watch their very physical set as they drummed their way solidly for an hour. A beautiful touch was the entire band and Hiroko sitting outside in the foyer and individually signing free CDs which they gave to each and every punter.
Overall a truly magnificent show and such a shame that only one performance was made available – I would surely have gone for a second dose had I the opportunity.
What a treat indeed. Remember these names should we be lucky enough to host them once more.