Hiroshi Koike, Ringmaster of the Circus


“Circus: The Memory of Hiroshi Koike and the Pappa Tarahumara” (Photo courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

Stark overhead lighting threw long shadows, accentuating the costumes’ surrealistic effects. Masks of deer, donkeys and a cyclops capped off futuristic kimonos. Hung from the ceiling, the outfits are suspended in time and space.

The otherworldly costumes and stage sets are part of the “Circus: The Memory of Hiroshi Koike and the Pappa Tarahumara” exhibition at the Salihara cultural center in South Jakarta.

Curated by Japanese theater director Hiroshi Koike, the collection was used by Koike and his Pappa Tarahumara performing arts company for their performances around the world from 1982 to 2012.

The collection “was chosen to open the Biennale because its works touch on the similarities between the literature and circus,” said acclaimed Indonesian writer Ayu Utami, who is also the Biennale’s director.

“They also reflect Koike’s efforts to shine a light on the lesser known aspects of human nature.”

Koike agreed: “The exhibition is a retrospective of my work with Pappa Tarahumara before I disbanded it last year to form the Hiroshi Koike Bridge Project,” he said of Pappa, with whom he made 55 productions, including “Macbeth,” “Gulliver’s Travels” and “The Mahabharata.”

Aside from his quirks, Koike’s designs reveal a jaded eye for the world around him. “Much of my work focuses on the human condition. For that reason, [Anglo-Irish writer] Jonathan Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ particularly strikes me for its portrayal of the human condition” he said.

“The paradoxes featured in the work, whether its Gulliver in the world of the Lilliputians or dwarfed by giants, is full of humorous irony. Swift also brought up a subject that I touch on frequently, namely — ‘what is a human being?’ ”

Like Swift, Koike brings a dash of humor to his work, albeit in a grotesque, vaguely sinister manner.

“Much of my focus is on the fine line between tragedy and comedy. There has always been a fine line between both elements, whether it be in the theater or human nature” said Koike, who performed “Love Letter,” “Three Sisters” and “Garibaba’s Strange World” in Jakarta and Solo, Central Java, in 2001 and 2009.

For Koike, the transition from Pappa to the Hiroshi Koike Bridge Project is more than just turning the page to a new artistic phase.

“The name change touches on my efforts to create bridges between the world, nature, time and cultures as an art project in Japan and other countries. I have been pondering over this issue, particularly in the wake of the 2011 tsunami in Japan and the Fukushima nuclear disaster that followed afterwards” he said.

“Both disasters are the culmination of a crisis in Japan, namely the ‘shrinking’ of the Japanese people’s mentality, following the economic downturn two decades ago.

‘‘The economic crisis, as well as disasters like the Kobe earthquake in 1995 played on people’s minds, as it made them keep a greater distance between themselves and others, made them more selfish, and adversely affected the interpersonal relations that have long been a trademark of Japanese life.”

Koike’s work reflected a darker, more pessimistic view of the world around him.

“Seeing the costumes and props firsthand are quite impressive, especially when seen firsthand. The somewhat abstract, timeless designs of some,” said Indonesia Open University sophomore Novia Octaviani.

“The costumes … seem to jump out of the pages of Japanese manga or anime. Although I took part in cosplay of both genres, seeing the authentic designs firsthand is an unforgettable experience.”

Novia’s fellow visitor Kiki agrees. “I’ve never seen theater costumes and props firsthand until I saw this exhibition. They look good when they’re seen firsthand, so they must look great when they’re seen onstage” said Kiki, who recently graduated from the University of Indonesia with a degree in communications.’’

Koike will bring his designs to life as the Hiroshi Koike Bridge Project is set to perform Japanese novelist Kenji Miyazawa’s work “The Restaurant of Many Orders” at Salihara Theater on Oct. 19 and 20.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on September 19, 2013

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