IzumonookunI (2024)

Image by Nikki Lee

by Aretha Aoki and Ryan MacDonald
Choreographed and performed by Aretha Aoki
Sound design and performance by Ryan MacDonald
Text by Aretha Aoki
Project Manager: Lila Hurwitz

IzumonookunI is a multidisciplinary dance inspired by Izumo no Okuni, 17th century female founder of the Japanese dance-drama form, kabuki—a form that currently contains little trace of its female-centric, grassroots, counter-cultural origins. Kabuki was born in a dry riverbed in Kyoto by Okuni and a group of women outcasts and prostitutes. Their humorous parodies of Buddhist dances and prayers and dramatizations of everyday life were popular across social stratifications, amongst common people as well the ladies of the Imperial Court. Okuni disappeared from historical accounts around 1610 and soon afterward, during a time of moral reform, all women were outlawed from performing kabuki due to associations with prostitution. What remains of kabuki is a strictly male, patrilineal form made up of highly formalized movement performed in established theaters.  Choreographer Aretha Aoki and sound and visual designer Ryan MacDonald are resurrecting re-imagining Okuni as a punk/synthwave/glam-goth figure. Aoki plays the role of Okuni in a mythical and reimagined form; MacDonald provides a live soundscape of synth loops and beats, and both covered and original songs. Moving between live music with Aoki at the mic—drawing from a range of glam/synthwave influences such as David Bowie, Gary Numan, and Siouxie Sioux—live taiko drumming, and hyper-stylized experimental dance choreography and improvisation, IzumokookunI aims to reclaim the lost femme origins of Kabuki, collapse reductive binaries, and allow audiences to make new connections between seemingly disparate forms.

IzumonookunI (excerpt)
Motion State Arts
March 2023

IzumonookunI (excerpt)
School for Contemporary Dance and Thought (SCDT)
November 12, 2022

IzumonookunI (excerpt)
Bates Dance Festival
Shared show with Shura Baryshnikov and Adrienne Taylor
July 22, 2022 at 7:30

IzumonookunI (work-in-progress, excerpt)
estrogenius festival, Frigid NYC
Kraine Theater (NYC), March 26, 2022 at 7 pm

IzumonookunI (work-in-progress, excerpt)
New England Now Dance Platform
Institute for Contemporary Art (Boston, MA)
March 18-20, 2022 at 8 pm

IzumonookunI (work-in-progress) and Wind in the Pines (video and live excerpt) 2020
Arts Alive at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island, Feb. 12th, 2022 at 7:30 pm

Thank you to Heather Kravas, whose rigorous investigations of repetition inspired the choreographic looping in the final section. 

We are deeply grateful to Shoni Currier, Allie James and the entire BDF staff, Cathy Nicoli, Stephanie Turner, Maura Donohue, Melissa Riker, Jen Polins, and the RDDI New England cohort and NEFA staff for supporting this project.  

Funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Touring program of the New England Foundation for the Arts, made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts Regional Touring Program and the six New England state arts agencies. Supported through work-in-progress showings at Roger Williams University, estrogenius at the Kraine Theater, New England Now Dance Platform at ICA/Boston, and the Bates Dance Festival. 

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