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Henry Baumgartner

Strange Doings at Yubiwa Hotel


Yubiwa Hotel in "Candies: girlish hardcore". Photo by Kunihiko Hatase

By Henry Baumgartner

The flier for "Candies: girlish hardcore" quotes a Japanese newspaper's claim that the company "stimulates all five senses." The more I thought about this the more alarmed I became—smell? taste?—but the performance, though a bit puzzling at times, was not so traumatic as all that.

Shirotama Hitsujiya's company Yubiwa Hotel, from Tokyo, has been around since 1994 and has apparently attracted considerable notice in Japan, but the company has never before performed in New York. The work was presented as part of a series at Japan Society called "Girl, Girly, Girlish."

The piece is described as "written and directed" by Hitsujiya, as if it were a play, though an observer might more likely describe it as dance theater. But rather than using dance to illuminate a more-or-less coherent story or idea, Hitsujiya subjects the text and the subject matter to the sort of patterning and repetition that a choreographer might employ with his dance movements. (Text is projected on the backdrop.) Phrases, motifs, allusions come and go in a fashion that can seem totally mystifying. This is, not surprisingly, accompanied by actions that, while sometimes interesting or engaging, often seem to have nothing in particular to do with the words. Yet the piece is certainly not without interest—it contains exciting and beautiful elements blended with tiresome and annoying ones.

Taeko Uzuki gets ready to fry up some pancakes. Photo by Kunihiko Hatase

There are five women, who manipulate five bundles of cloth. There's a wedding, interrupted by the death of a bridesmaid's mother; the bride decides to skip the wedding to help with funeral arrangements, until the two "sisters" begin to find one another unbearable. The main character seems to be mourning the loss of her childhood toys and wondering whether they will somehow come back to her, apparently through some sort of reincarnation. Or maybe that's her mother she's talking about. One performer, Taeko Uzuki, who has a magnificent full-body tattoo, seems to pee in a pot and then fry up pancakes in the urine, though I assume this is not really what happened. The performers eat the pancakes voraciously. It seems that Hitsujiya is trying to undermine stereotypes of Japanese women as sweet, obedient, oppressible creatures and uncover a darker, more erotic side, while making some point about mother-daughter relations that remained totally opaque to me.

The five-woman cast was led by Hitsujiya, and included Kazuyo Ikuta, Tomomi Murata, Yukiko Sakata, and Taeko Uzuki. Akiko Sakata designed the sets, Mayumi Iijima the costumes, Satoshi Iwahara the sound, and Masaaki Aikawa the lighting. Videos were by Go Arisue.

Yubiwa Hotel
Candies: girlish hardcore
Written and directed by Shirotama Hitsujiya
Japan Society
September 14-16, 2006


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