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Japan dance group creates stage seen through peepholes in new twist amid pandemic

This Jan. 31, 2021 photo shows a circular stage set that is viewed by looking through a hole in the door of a room partitioned off for each person at Komaki Community Center in Aichi Prefecture. The paper tubes placed inside are used by the performers. (Photo courtesy of Ryosuke Sato)

NAGOYA, Aichi -- A dance company in this central Japan city is attracting a lot of attention after creating a circular stage for performances viewed through peepholes while maintaining social distance.

    Thirty cubicles to view shows are arranged in a circle, and the audience sits one by one in the space surrounded by dividers, and peep through holes in the doors at the performers.

    Nobuyoshi Asai, 37, a dancer and choreographer who runs the dance company "Tsuki Akarino Ido Gekijyo," or moonlight mobile theater, says, "I would like to propose this as a new stage format that people can appreciate with peace of mind."

    Each door made of plywood is 1.99 meters long and 90 centimeters wide, and has two holes resembling a spyhole and a newspaper receptacle. Asai says, "The doors are light and can be disassembled into individual pieces, so I would like to tour the whole country starting from Aichi Prefecture."

    The new work using a circular stage is titled "Peeping Garden" and performances started at "Dance House Kogane 4422" in Nakamura Ward in the city of Nagoya in December 2020. A total of six performances have been held so far, and on Feb. 7, shows are scheduled for Chita Labor and Culture Hall also in Aichi Prefecture.

    People who have watched the performance commented, "It was refreshing to see stage art in the form of a peek-a-boo show. I stared at it more than usual," and "I felt like I was watching people from the outside, as if it was a connection to the coronavirus pandemic."

    The theater was established in 2015 by Asai, a former member of the butoh group Sankai Juku, together with Shu Okuno, 45, a mime actor based in Paris, and others. The group made its debut in Tokyo and other cities in 2016.

    Yura Sugiura, 15, a dancer in her third year of junior high school who has been performing with the two since elementary school, is a unique presence. For this performance, she choreographed the show herself for the first time, wearing a white one-piece dress and using a two-meter-long paper tube to express her physical movement.

    Looking back on the Nagoya performance, Sugiura said, "This time, I couldn't see the faces of the audience, but I was instead able to get into the work and feel a new sensation."

    (From left) "Peeping Garden" performers Yura Sugiura, Nobuyoshi Asai, and Shu Okuno are seen at Dance House Kogane 4422 in Nagoya on Dec. 19, 2020. (Mainichi/Yasuo Yamada)

    Asai, who was previously based in Paris, opened Dance House Kogane 4422 in a rental building near Kintetsu Kogane Station (Nakamura Ward) in June 2017, hoping to contribute to the community in his hometown of Nagoya through the performing arts. Contemporary dancers stay at the house to create and present their works and to teach their techniques. Sugiura took dance lessons here from the fourth grade of elementary school.

    Akira Omi, 21, a senior in the Department of Architecture at Meijo University's Faculty of Science and Technology, and Kazuki Ichikawa, 23, a graduate student at the university, assisted in the design and construction of the circular stage set.

    Ichikawa said, "We tried various diameters for the peepholes, keeping distance in mind. In fact, we made the peepholes wider at the back to secure the field of view."

    Omi, who has been studying ballet for more than 10 years, added, "I want people to feel the world of the dancers one-on-one through the door."

    The new work will be available online at a later date. For ticket reservations, please contact the Nagoya City Cultural Promotion Agency at 052-249-9387.

    (Japanese original by Yasuo Yamada, Nagoya News Center)

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