Aynu myth told in shadows, song

by Perri Haser | 1/8/14 5:03pm

One day many, many years ago, an evil monster captured the sun goddess, taking her hostage as she emerged on the horizon. Numerous “Kamuys,” or gods, tried to rescue her to no avail. Aynu Rakkur must slay the shadow monster, who threatens the future of humankind.

“Poro Oyna,” the creation myth of the Aynu people, will be brought to life at 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday. Audiences in the Hopkins Center’s Moore theater will be treated to a production that features supersized puppets, shadow and light effects and an original soundtrack.

The show began two years ago as a collaboration between Aynu musician OKI and American shadow master Larry Reed. OKI adapted the myth for the stage and created the show’s original soundtrack, while Reed brought the story’s dramatic elements to life with custom-made puppets and masked actors.

This weekend’s performances will be the project’s American debut. The show will include Japanese shadow puppeteers, and while the music’s lyrics are in Japanese, the show will feature English narration.

Marewrew, a singing group of four Aynu women, will perform live music for the show, accompanied by OKI playing the tonkori, a traditional Aynu string instrument. The group specializes in “upopo,” ancient, rhythmic songs that accompany traditional dance.

Much of the show’s music has improvisational elements, which creates the impression of dialogue between singers and shadow puppets on stage, OKI said.

The show aims to bring “a new perspective” to the traditional myth, as well as share Aynu culture’s richness with new audiences, OKI said.

The result, he said, was a project where “Aynu culture meets Larry Reed and Indonesian culture.”

Dating back to 1200 B.C., the Aynu culture is one of the oldest in Asia, known for its musical expression, especially through song. However, there are currently fewer than 15 living native speakers of the Aynu language, which was designated a “critically endangered language” by UNESCO.

The show gives voice to a group historically oppressed and discriminated against in Japan. The Japanese government did not formally recognize the Aynu people, who were forced to assimilate into Japanese society, until 2008.

Reed said the show is unique for the way that it transforms a traditional story with modern artistic techniques. Imaginative, dreamlike elements also heighten the myth’s drama.

“You kind of need two different points of view that you hold in your mind at the same time,” Reed said. “One is conservative, where you keep what you’ve had for generations, and the other is innovative, where you fill in the missing parts.”

Koyano Tetsuro, the show’s lead performer and co-adapter, called the project a “dream project come true.”

“Aynu culture is the first culture of Japan,” he said. “We have to conserve that culture.”

The audience must come to the show ready to “use their full imaginations” and engage, he said.

Marewrew will also perform a solo concert accompanied by OKI playing the tonkori on Saturday morning in Alumni Hall. The concert will include audience participation.