Uģis Brikmanis’ Impressions of a Performing Arts Festival

Uģis Brikmanis’ Impressions of a Performing Arts Festival
Kristaps Kalns
10-04-2012 A+ A-
In February this year, Uģis Brikmanis, curator of the Rīga 2014 chapter “Thirst for the Ocean”, took part in the TPAM international performing arts festival in Yokohama, Japan.

Uģis Brikmanis has summed up his impressions of Japan and the famous theatre and dance festival of this Eastern land especially for Rīga|2014 readers:

The road from Riga to Yokohama is long, leaving lots of time for contemplation. This is my first visit to Japan, and on inhaling the early spring air of Narita airport, so different to Riga’s icy winter, everything – what I have read as a child, seen on TV screens and heard from friends – indicates that this is a unique land.

First of all, the megalopolis with its surprisingly tastefully laid out ads – ‘surprising’ will probably be the most frequently used word in my memories of the urban environments of Tokyo and Yokohoma – as opposed to London, which I recently visited (although it too is being put in order before the Olympics). I have got to know the urban jungle and been enraptured by the silence of metro passengers, as well as enjoying the help of passersby when lost  – time to look deeper into the human soul.

The first performance I attend is a work by Teita Iwaguchi. Subtle metaphors, compelling technical prowess, and a story in motion, filled with the existential loneliness of a young man. Perfect usage of the bitter cruelty of the white cube, and the electronically synthetic noise created by a computer. The 21st century issue that Mr.Kogi has so eloquently put into words – “young generation give up”- is answered in the performance: “yes, give up, but I tried, what I can”. Teita remains true in his work until the end; there is no exit from the space and sound he has created.

My path continues through the Jackson Pollock centenary exhibition located in the imperial gardens and modern art museum, and on to a show by contemporary Japanese artists. Perfect exhibitions, compelling in their scope, vision and implementation. The How Physical exhibition, devoted to photography, video and film art, is also rich in ideas, concepts and outstanding pieces of work.

That evening’s performance contrasts sharply with what came before. A Korean play with sharps social themes, its theatrical language harking back to early boulevard theatre. 

The Internetartfuture exhibition draws a sharp line between the telecommunication centuries, asking the question – what next? Who does this technology serve? This multidimensional exhibition, which lets visitors debate online with the world’s digital gurus, definitely deserves a longer stay.


The Museum of Contemporary Art hosts an ambitious exhibition by Ay-O, revealing the metamorphoses in the work of the former Fluxus member, and the striking technique of the painter of rainbows. 

That evening’s show became the culmination of my festival. The IDIOT SAVANT performance in an ancient Japanese temple took place on a high spiritual level, addressing the deepest questions of human existence; inspired by the tragic tsunami, a struggle between old and ancient ideas. A wonderful aesthetic language with a poetic culmination – the opening up of the temple wall and rain falling over the hero. Without understanding a single word of the long monologues and dialogues, I took in everything emotionally and associatively. With its simple means of expression, the play spoke directly to my soul, proving that text is nor barrier for true art.

Faultless bodily technique, an outstanding balance of live and recorded music, retrospective shots filmed on real film – this all provided the minimal aesthetic with a compelling force.

An exhibition by Lee Bul in the MORI ART museum majestically spread the wings of contemporary art across Tokyo. Scale and diversity of expression – from works in plastic and metal to video art. The creators of the exhibition have probed deep into the controversially-minded artist’s work, thus building a comprehensive and sarcastically tragicomic image of the modern era.

Evening. A collaboration between outstanding young pianist Francesco Tristano and the Japanese dancers Saburo Teshigawara and Rihoko Sato. The sound of the Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach. A sophisticated and hyper-slow language of movement, at times dictating the pace of the pianist. Bach loses out, and the collaboration does not gain anything either – striving for absolute perfection will continue forever.

Capacity of the Queen, a performance by the Sample company, is a dessert for intellectual connoisseurs. A wonderfully smart postmodern drama, an ensemble of actors with great style, a serious theme draped in deep irony, naive and witty stage design. An excellent example of the need for dramaturgy in contemporary theatre – a fine and modern language. Of course, a play like this needs translation, ensured by English subtitles of a high quality.

Haikara – a dance performance staged in the language of pop culture, full of the volcanic energy of youth. A conversation with its audience of teens and young people in a tone of fun, quoting and laughing at the clichés of pop culture.

 “Till human voices wake us, and we drown” – this phrase by TS. Eliot has inspired the creators behind Scream and Silence to develop a performance rich in expression, in collaboration with Ceramic Art. Laconic light direction, electronic sound paintings, two dancers and a number of Easter Island style ceramic sculptures in a huge, empty ex-warehouse space. I imagine the potential of a joint project with Latvian musicians, that could form part two, quoting another motive by T.S. Eliot – “And the end and the beginning where always there, before the beginning and after the end.”

A Butoh dancer from Hungary fascinates me and the rest of the audience, incorporating elements of shamanic dance from many cultures. This phenomenon (in my opinion, referring to Butoh dance as a genre would be incorrect) is as yet undeveloped in Latvia, but judging from this performance, it has a future in Europe too.

The light, improvisation-loving JOU awaits me on a beach terrace, performing improvisations together with her audience in both dance and drawing. I offer to dance to some unknown (to them) Latvian music. The dancers grasp the code of the music with the very first strokes – beautiful! In the evening, JOU continues her marvellous improvisations, led by the sounds of a bandoneon and Japanese pipes in a unique architectural space – REVERSIBLE DESTINY LOFTS MITAKA, a building the architect ARAKAWA has dedicated to Helen Keller. Twice, I have staged a play based on her fate. A surprising encounter.

I am grateful to the TPAM festival for its diversity and excellent organization, perfect provision of information and hospitality, and especially thankful to the Japan EU festival committee, Ms.Saori Hakodai and Mr.Shuji Kogi. I hope that the joint projects of Rīga|2014 and Japan will materialize.

A wonderful echo of my visit to Japan was the chance to watch the  performance “Chaconne – Die Stadt im Klavier”, with two superb Japanese artists,  Yui Kawaguchi and Aki Takase, at the Tyrol Easter Festival (Austria). Japan continues to hold a fascination for Europeans.

Uģis Brikmanis


Comments open for registered users only!