The Asian Performing Arts Festival (APAF)1 is one of the projects of the Asian Major Cities Network 21. It seeks to “promote mutual understanding and cultural exchange through Asia’s performing arts; pursue new creative forms and higher standards in the performing arts through mutual exchange among artists; discover outstanding talent and works; and contribute to the promotion of arts and culture in Asia” (APAF website). Originally set-up as a forum within which collaborative work was pursued between and among Asian performance workers and practitioners, it has since transformed into a “farm” model. But its goals have not changed: to “cultivate the future performing arts scene in Asia” as envisioned by APAF Director Junnosuke Tada (APAF Website).
An important aspect of the APAF that is critical to this paper is its organizer. The Asian Major Cities Network 21 is an “international network of Asian capital and major cities, undertaking joint projects on common tasks regarding crisis management, environmental countermeasures and industrial development, and applying the outcome for the prosperity / development of the Asian region” (ANMC21 website). The AMCN21 network’s thrust towards prosperity and development, vis a vis the currency of the global environmental crisis, and the specificities of disaster experience is the context of what would become “Teru Teru Bozu,” staged at the APAF on November 2016. This tells a narrative borne of the Philippine experience of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall in the world, and the strongest of the year 2013, which killed thousands, and wiped out whole towns and islands with massive storm surges that the people and government were unprepared for (BBC News). The personal and collective experiences about this storm (local name: Typhoon Yolanda), especially in the areas hardest hit in the Visayas, continue to be a source of narratives for cultural production in the Philippines, especially given the number of storms that make landfall in the country every year, and the worsening climate crisis that affect the intensity of storms and hurricanes (Climate Links). To say we live every typhoon season with a clear sense of how disastrous it can be, how destructive, is an understatement.
The need to make sense of the fear that rain brings, the process of coming to terms with its cycles, the exercise of performing rituals that dampen those fears, is at the heart of the work that is the focus of this paper. Critical moments lend themselves to a process of making, where we unpack our own humanity, our sense of community, given the power of that which we cannot control. This is the context of “Teru Teru Bozu.” And a devised piece that is borne of the experience of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, but built within a Japanese context, with a Japanese production, and a global audience, it also presents the possibilities for building unified and common narratives about universal experiences, be it of nature’s violence and destructiveness, or—and probably more important—the value of myth and ritual in our construction of narratives and stories. In that sense, its value is not so much in the final material as it is written into a script, or as it is finally performed. It is primarily in the process that went into its making—not just the experience of the subject matter, but in the experience of constructing it into a narrative through a collective process that involves everyone in the production. The method is itself part of the performance, and in the case of narratives that allow the unraveling of personal stories, that method can even be more important.
This is the story of “Teru Teru Bozu.”
1 Now called the Asian Performing Arts Farm, it has since changed its format but with the same goal of collaborative work across Asian performing arts practitioners and groups. (APAF Website, accessed 2020.)
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