Give me Back my father, give me back my mother;
Give back my elders;
Give me my sons and daughters back.
Give me back myself,
Give back the human race,
As long as this life lasts, this life,
Give back peace
That will never end.
On April 11th, Keiin Yoshimura visited Touchstone Theater for her performance of Sakura, meaning “cherry blossom” in Japanese. Included above is the first in a series of poems provided by the artist to read before the show. Each of the poems came from a collection entitled Genbaku Sishu by Sankichi Toge and each reflects on the horrors of the bombing at Hiroshima in 1945. I sat in the theater, solemnly flipping through the pamphlet.
The show featured only one performer, Yoshimura, and was in tribute to those who died as a result of the nuclear weapons used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yoshimura hopes that with Sakura, she can remind others of the tragedy of war and advocate for a world without nuclear weapons.
Sakura featured several different elements, including dance, music, natural imagery, and video. The show was separated into seven scenes, starting with a darker, somber tone and gradually evolving into a more peaceful finish. It incorporated various types of traditional Japanese theater, including Kyōgen, Kabuki, and Kamigata-mai, the last of which is often associated with geisha performances. Yoshimura began this story with the pain and suffering of the main figure and concludes as the sakura trees bloom behind her.
Yoshimura delivered a strong performance that invited the audience to reflect on the poems introduced before the show. She shifted seamlessly between different characters and theatrical styles, and, though she spoke very little throughout the performance, her varying expressive and graceful body movements told the story for her.
One of the most fascinating and unique components of Sakura was the way Yoshimura approached scene and costume changes. She first came onto the stage dressed in several layers of clothing, and as the show went on, she slowly shed the costumes as she moved between the different styles of Japanese theater.
The most stunning part of the show happened towards the end of the performance, when Yoshimura had shed most of the costumes and, with the help of two stage hands, began to slowly transform into a geisha. She started by placing a wig upon her head, continued by wrapping several different layers of cloth around her body, and concluded by tying a massive bow around her waist and covering her lips in red paint. The whole process took approximately ten minutes, and the audience sat patiently, without any music or dialogue, as they intently watched the transformation take place. The moment was intricate and fascinating, offering a contemplative moment for the viewer.
Yoshimura ended her performance in an unconventional way. She made a note in the pamphlet before the poems, asking the audience to refrain from clapping at the end of the show. The request was listed under “Artist’s Wishes:”
Please never clap at the end of Sakura.
Close your eyes in silence and stillness
And pray for Universal Peace in your mind
All together as an audience
When the lights come back up
please open your eyes
And return to your homes,
taking the petal of Sakura
on the depth of your heart
In accordance with the wishes of Yoshimura, may we never forget the devastation created from nuclear warfare in Japan, and let us collectively wish for a better, peaceful future.
For more information regarding future performances at Touchstone Theater, please visit their website.
*Feature photo credits: Victoria McCulley*