Avant-garde theatre is a realm of artistic exploration, where boundaries are pushed, conventions are challenged, and new horizons are continually sought.
At the forefront of this innovative genre is Japan’s Hiroshi Koike, a visionary director and playwright renowned for his groundbreaking work.
In a recent interview leading up to his upcoming production, “SOUL of Odyssey,” in collaboration with KL Shakespeare Players (KLSP) , Koike generously shared five enlightening insights into the realm of avant-garde theatre, offering valuable perspectives on the journey to reach new creative horizons.
Koike emphasizes the importance of cross-cultural collaboration.
He believes that when different cultures, genres, languages, and techniques converge, they give rise to a unique and innovative experience that transcends traditional notions of multiculturalism.
For Koike, it’s not merely about diversity; it’s the fusion of everything, creating something beyond imagination.
This perspective is reflected in the practices of the Hiroshi Koike Bridge Project, which is renowned for its involvement in numerous international collaborative endeavors.
These projects distinctly prioritize the themes of “cross-culture” and “multiculturalism,” underscoring the project’s commitment to fostering creative environments that transcend traditional artistic and cultural norms.
“Diverse cultures intersect, bridging myriad interpretations. Across foreign lands, diverse genres, languages, and techniques, a fusion unfolds—melding classic with contemporary, and spanning across theater, art, music, and video. This amalgamation leads to a newness that is beyond imagination and transcends the confines of ‘multicultural.”
“My perspective from the start is to discover something, and then through the rehearsal process, everything becomes clear. What we are doing (in the process of creating) is discovering new possibilities,” says Koike.
Collaboration is central to Koike’s work, but it must be accompanied by flexibility. He stresses the need to break free from one’s sense of beauty and be open to new possibilities. It’s not just about working together but about having the adaptability to explore uncharted territories.
In response to a question about the qualities and contributions he values most in artistic partnerships and collaborations, including SOUL of Odyssey with KLSP, Koike highlighted the inherent potential within human beings.
“As a matter of fact, there is great potential in human beings. However, many of us tend to fall into a repetition of the same thing, which is called “maturity”. While that is a good thing in some respects, I do this kind of work because I always want to discover new possibilities. The necessary quality would be to have flexibility.
“It’s no good being stuck in your own sense of beauty, so you always need to be flexible enough to open the door to new possibilities…I hope that through this kind of work, participants and viewers will recognize that depending on the approach there are still great possibilities to be discovered.”
In his production, SOUL of Odyssey Koike delves into themes of human resilience and faith. These elements resonate throughout the show, reflecting the belief that as long as you don’t give up, possibilities will come your way. The process of creating the production mirrors this belief, embracing flexibility to uncover new artistic possibilities.
He shared that in SOUL of Odyssey a production based on Homer’s Greek epic, Koike portrays Odysseus’s wife and son, Penelope and Telemachus, following a character development arc similar to that in the original work.
This mirrors the journey of life, with individuals evolving and maturing through their experiences and challenges.”…time and struggles will make people wise, and strengthen their willpower,” says Koike.
KLSP’s executive director, Lim Soon Heng, also shared a profound insight, highlighting the rehearsal floor’s significance as a microcosm of each individual’s creative journey in shaping their personal and collective identity.
He drew a parallel between this journey and the process of creating “SOUL of Odyssey,” likening it to the universal quest we all undertake to find our place in our nation and the broader global community.
He eloquently stated, “This creative journey mirrors the various journeys we all embark upon as individuals in our pursuit of ‘home.’ It symbolizes our collective quest to discover Malaysia as a nation and define our place as a country within the world’s broader citizenship. Within the rehearsal room, alongside the director, crew, musicians, and performers, we constitute a microcosm, learning to craft something beautiful by embracing both our shared attributes and our unique differences.”
Technology and visual elements play a pivotal role in Koike’s productions. He views technology as a tool for discovering the uncharted and emphasizes the significance of rhythm at the core of his work. This rhythm serves as a foundation upon which technology, different cultures, genres, and languages intermingle.
“I have continued to be involved in creating things for a long time, always wanting to create work that no one has ever seen before. My intention is to always discover something I have never seen before through the work. Technology is very useful for those discoveries. If we use multiple languages, obviously there are words that I don’t understand. However, words do not just convey meaning, they have rhythm and timbre. So, there’s always a discovery of sound too. I want to emphasize the significance of rhythm. With this rhythm at the core, technology, different cultures, different genres, and different languages are all involved,” says Koike.
Koike’s joy in creating avant-garde and experimental work is rooted in the continuous exploration of new possibilities. This sometimes results in situations where audiences may not necessarily “like” or immediately understand the product; instead, the goal is to offer something completely “different” and “new.” It’s about challenging preconceived notions of art and pushing the limits of creativity.
“(The audience) are free to feel what they feel or don’t feel. Perhaps some people may not be impressed and walk away wondering ‘What was this?’, and that is okay too. However, the experience and the unknown stimulus will remain in the brain. And that is what is important. This memory is what spreads the significance of possibilities in people.”
Koike’s emphasis on discovering new frontiers also present challenges in terms rigid categorization of genres and funding. Genres, in his view, can be more harmful than helpful when exploring avant-garde possibilities.
“Genres are meaningless as long as you explore the possibilities. Even so, I have continued creating works that transcend genre barriers for a long time. However, lack of funds always seems to stand in the way. I have always fought against these financial difficulties. But this is something we have to work steadily to solve.”
Soon Heng echoes Koike’s struggle, stating that, “To put it crudely, we hear the gurus saying, ‘Think out of the box, think out of the box.’ But how do you do that when the gatekeepers don’t know where to pigeonhole you? If you are a theatre-in-education, should you be funded under the performing arts or under education?”
In the world of avant-garde theatre, Hiroshi Koike’s insights offer a glimpse into the creative process, emphasizing the importance of cross-cultural collaboration, adaptability, resilience, and the fusion of technology and rhythm.
His work encourages us to embrace the unknown, challenge the status quo, and continually seek new horizons in the ever-evolving landscape of avant-garde theatre.
As audiences become more accustomed to various stimuli, Koike’s productions remind us that the resonance with the fundamental aspects of humanity and the fusion of different elements can create captivating and thought-provoking experiences.
After experiencing SOUL of Odyssey and Koike’s other avant-garde works, you may find yourself pondering, “What did I just witness?” — a question that ignites the significance of artistic possibilities in all of us.
All images sourced from KLSP and Hiroshi Koike. Image Credit: Tobias Papuscyz.