Behind the Face of a Rock, Throwing Stones is a blend of ideas brimming with possibility. The kind of work you need to let sit a while, until it settles and solidifies in your mind.
At the same time it’s incredibly clear; imbued with a rare kind of intention and specificity that gives a viewer room to breathe, without ever feeling blurry. Both interested in communication and the spaces in between, in sound and silence, the thing that stuck with me after the performance was the concept of consistency.
Mainly this was because I could see elements of other Japanese artists within the work, whether intentional or not, that also embody this idea. Particularly Kazuo Ishiguro, a British-Japanese author whose books take place in Japan, the UK and the USA; in the past, the future, and the parallel present. Each is completely unique in place and time, yet contains a sense of consistency within its delivery. While more narrative-based than this performance work, his text is always delivered with a clarity and calmness that entices emotions to bloom slowly. Rather than a rollercoaster that throws one off kilter, the reader is invited to sit with the story, and the feelings it brings, long after they reach the last page.
Specifically, Ishiguro’s newest work Klara and the Sun came to mind. In it, the sun takes the position of a deity, an all-encompassing spiritual figure worshipped by the narrator. The projection of natural imagery within the performance echoed this sentiment, as it covered parts of the set and swallowed the performers. The spiritual, ephemeral aspect of the natural world blended with the bodies of each dancer, reflecting Shinto beliefs and tying the human and natural worlds together. Like the wedded rocks of Ise, the image of which is used in the performance, the two are inextricably bound. Specific sections of choreography focus on shared humanity and peace, but these things can’t be achieved without a relationship to nature. Replacing hierarchy with an understanding of interconnection, dismantling systemic injustice and replacing it with new ways of being.
All of this requires communication, and all of this requires the ability to be still. The Japanese region of Ise houses one of Shinto’s holiest sites, the Ise Grand Shrine, (also known as Ise Jingu), and was significant to the development of this work. It’s also the perfect image to think about the spiritual aspect of communication. The Shrine’s Inner Sanctum, which houses the sun goddess Amaterasu, can only be accessed by members of the Imperial family, or senior shrine priests (the chief priest or priestess of the shrine must also be a member or descendant of the Imperial family). The questions of how people communicate, who they communicate with and how these things relate to sacredness, are encapsulated in the architecture and reverence of such a historically significant place, and mirrored in the embodiment of each dancer on stage.
Spiritually and culturally, the merging influences of Japan, Britain and D/deaf culture are all on clear display in Behind the Face of a Rock, Throwing Stones. Japan and the North East have been historically linked through investment and industry; wearable technology merges with the traditional use of materials and Japanese craft in the set; cultural exchange is facilitated as the dancers perform Ise folk dance, which the Ise Folk Dance Society specifically requested they share.
Tradition and innovation sit side by side. We communicate and we are silent. Sound takes form, yet remains intangible. The stage becomes a site of exchange and stillness, of reverence and shared humanity, of an imagined future peace, and none of these things can be separated from each other.
By Francesca Willow after attending the premiere of ‘Behind the Face of a Rock, Throwing Stones, at Dance City, 2021