By Dustin Begay and Mako Beecken
Part dance, part theater, part CGI animation, Mystical Abyss is a visually striking live performance piece. It brings together ancient stories and legends from Japanese Jomon culture and Native American creation myths, focusing on the cyclical story of death and rebirth, and set to the music of John O’Keefe.In September Mystical Abyss came to Colorado State University, presented by the Theatre of Yugen out of San Francisco, California. The UCA Dance Theatre was filled with a curious audience ranging from young children to college students to academic professionals. The sold-out show brought an intriguing fusion of Japanese and Native American mythology into a visually stunning live performance with moving art, expression, music, dance, and living traditions.The director of Theatre of Yugen, Yuriko Doi, sees many parallels between Iroquois and Japanese creation myths, particularly the Japanese Sun Goddess and Goddess of Creation and Death and the Iroquois Sky Woman. Integrating 600-year-old traditional Japanese Noh theatre and Native American indigenous elements with 3D animated visual art designed by Taketo Kobayashi, the presentation evoked powerful images of creation, life, love, tragedy, despair, and then death. Mesmerizing, vivid cosmic colors in the background connected the future to the past while integrating themes of self-discovery. Each design concept represented different worlds, locations, and time, and spoke to a cyclical story of death and rebirth through the teaching and education of future generations.Watching the dancers and the performers express and embody the story they are telling creates another level of beauty. As Sky Woman, played by Miki Orihara, started her journey falling in the deep dark abyss to transform and then retransform the world, she encountered the Fire Dragon and the serene Sun Goddess wearing a Noh mask. When Sky Woman was killed, an enraged Sun Goddess reappears on the stage with a horned demoness mask. Her slow to rapid dance movements combined with songs expressing anger and profound sorrow created a dramatic climax, as if the entire space was transformed into her world sharing her emotions. The music, including both traditional Japanese and Native American styles, created a unity of harmony and life.

After the performance, Nick Ishimaru (Theatre ’05) gave an enthusiastic educational lecture accompanied with demonstrations by Yuriko Doi and distinguished Noh actor, Masashi Nomura. This lecture gave the audience context for what they had seen, including the different types of stories that were told and the meaning of subtle movements of Noh Theatre. The lecture and demonstration was engaging and included audience participation.

Eric Prince, professor of theatre, shared that he and his students were “full of praise and captivated by the performance. It was an artistic experience of diversity and culture that is too rarely available.” Jane Slusarksi-Harris, director of dance, added, “Mystical Abyss was educational, artistic, and inspirational!”

More photographs can be seen here.