How was your experience?
My first thoughts before the show were "this is going to be an interesting addition to the knowledge I already have on Japanese art and culture." My thoughts after the show (but before the Q&A, which I will explain later) were, "this was a complete bastardization of Japanese art." Let me explain. I was very impressed by the visualization and the overall production of this show. It's beautifully crafted and clearly took a lot of people time and effort to put together; it was professionally done and its quality showed. The theme in it of itself was very Japanese (in that there was an abstract narrative), but there were clear Western influences throughout the show; mainly the use of contemporary video clips and other tidbits like music selection from Western countries. These additions were what made me feel like this was an inappropriate and somewhat disrespectful interpretation of Japanese art. So, as the show ended and we applauded the puppeteers and everyone else who made this event possible, I was thinking that it was a mediocre show that was beautifully crafted, but overall lacking in its homage to the Japanese puppetry world. Then Basil Twist himself came out and had a Q&A session. His description and explanation of the research he did regarding Dogugaeshi (the art of sliding-screen puppetry) made me change my mind. He clearly explained his intended purpose for this piece of performance art, and readily admitted that he was not wholly following the traditional methods. He wanted to use this more as an expression of an artform that has basically died out in the modern world, and to demonstrate to the world that there was once this type of art, and now it has basically withered into nonexistence. From these points of view I came to appreciate what he had done for Japanese puppetry. Had I not stayed for the Q&A I think I would have been slightly disappointed overall. The best part was that not only was there a Q&A section, but he allowed us to go backstage to see the entire setup for the show. He showed us all the screens he and his assistants made, how they made certain effects, and overall what it took to create the visually stunning show that we saw. It was clear that he and his team had spent at least a year creating this show to the form that we saw it. There were over 400 handpainted screens used, all of them were created from scratch, and all of them built in a much more mechanically-oriented way versus the typical Japanese method of show (screens would be used once then stacked, versus Basil's method of screens on wheels with push sticks on wheeled frames). I really appreciated seeing all this work up close and personal after the show and it made me respect him so much more as a puppeteer and artist. It made the show more meaningful to me and I no longer considered it a sacrilege. So, overall, in the end, I loved this show. After hearing the explanation for everything, having the great personal experience with the artist and creator himself, and just in general having this seen this piece of blended cultures, I am considerably impressed and awed by its artistry. While not at all suitable for younger children and even lighthearted adult theater-going fans, it was definitely worth my time and money. I look forward to seeing more from the Edge series at UCSD and hope that they all continue to push the cultural boundaries as this one did.