Thu, 30 Aug 2001

Love the meaning of life for Pappa Tarahumara

By Mehru Jaffer

JAKARTA (JP): Hiroshi Koike is a Japanese but the 45-year-old artistic director of Pappa Tarahumara is no island. For Koike needs to get out of his island all the time to be able to experience as much of the world as possible. This is the only way he can keep not only his art inspired, but himself alive.

Participating in the ongoing Third Art Summit Indonesia 2001 International Festival on Contemporary Performing Arts at Graha Bakti Budaya Taman Ismail Marzuki, it seems timely to have Koike from the crescent shaped island country off the coast of East Asia perform here.

Koike said that a life without love is quite meaningless. Yet human beings also find it difficult to live in harmony with each other. What he does in his own life is to keep trying to build as many bridges as possible, without ever giving up hope.

Koike may look like the typical Japanese, famous for being shy and uncommunicative, but to witness the mild mannered artiste on stage is to see the seemingly reticent Japanese tear his heart open and offer it in the form of uninhibited songs, dance, music and other theatricals to whoever is interested in lending a ear.

His lifeline seems to lie in maximum communication with as many people as possible.

For Koike there is no wall in the world that is so sacred that it cannot be pulled down if all it does is to keep people and societies apart from each other. He tackles the language barrier by allowing his actors to use pristine sound instead. He uses lights, props and will bathe the stage in different hues to create a particular mood for his audience so that it is able to feel what his motivations are.

In the absence of written text he makes maximum use of the body language so that his actors and dancers, the set and costume designers, too, are able to transcend stifling conventions and traditions, making it possible to still be able to speak to different audiences anywhere in the world.

To conquer other contentious crisis over sex, caste, race and religion he makes his male characters wear a blouse and a skirt while the women may appear in loose trousers and a shirt. For him no rite, ritual or tradition is more important than the human being itself. He has named his dance troupe after a tribe in Mexico that lives in a remote mountain area called the land of Tarahumara and which inspires him immensely with its colorful lifestyle and customs bringing much joy to Koike.

It is now two decades that he has been on the road, traveling around with Pappa Tarahumara sharing the wonder he feels for this world of ours through poems, sculptor and painting created on stage, not necessarily with words and in the hope of making that precious connection with the other.

To Jakarta, Koike has brought Love Letter from the series Island, staged for the first time in 1997. The Island is used as a symbol as people have over millenniums crawled into their own little world to create barriers, often not even knowing whether they do so out of loathing or love.

Love Letter is the draft of the second chapter of the four piece performance taken from Dostoevski's The Demons that is a review of the failures and accomplishments of the century. The four-chapter extravaganza -- including I was Born, So What and The Sound of Future Emptiness -- is to be staged in its entirety later this year and will also convey the expectations human beings have of the 21st century.

The two men and three women performing in Love Letter appear to use all the creative energy in their power to try and iron out extreme positions taken by men or women, people like me or you, in times of peace or war. During the one-hour performance, what they do on stage makes ample sense, but often it does not.

That, by the way, is no problem, assures Koike, as his sole intention is that the performance be seen by as many as possible, and above all that it be felt.

Whether it succeeds in baffling or bewitching is of least importance to Koike.