JCCSF and First Voice Present MU World Premiere, Now thru 9/29
The Jewish Community Center of San Francisco (JCCSF) joins forces with First Voice to present the World Premiere of MU, a magical fable created by National Endowment for the Arts Fellow playwright/artistic director Brenda Wong Aoki, Emmy-winning composer Mark Izu, and Tony-nominated choreographer Kimi Okada, and featuring fantasy costumes by Beaver Bauer. Based on a Japanese legend, MU is a beguiling tale both otherworldly and deeply personal. Three performances take place in Kanbar Hall tonight, Sept. 27 and Saturday, Sept. 28 at 8 pm, with a 2 pm matinee on Sunday, Sept. 29, to be followed by a national tour.
The mysterious underwater pyramids of Yonaguni, Japan, are the setting for the legendary lost continent of Mu-the land of the Sun that flourished in peace before the dawn of time and was home to the last Dragon Queen. An alienated teenage youth in San Francisco rescues a Samebito (magical Japanese sea creature), and is rewarded with a journey to this sea kingdom of Mu. When poison from the Land Above threatens the sea people, the young man learns that all is connected -- there is only one ocean and one world.
The score by Izu incorporates a blend of Asian instruments including the sho, shakuhachi, koto and taiko melded with the double bass, saxophone, drums and flute. Izu studied ancient Japanese court instruments for more than 30 years and is known for his inventive blending of Western jazz and Asian instruments. Okada has created a dance-scape that includes hip-hop, modern dance and Japanese classical movement.
MU features musicians Masaru Koga, Janet Koike, Shoko Hikage, Yumi Ishihara, Akira Tana; and dancers Kai Kane Aoki Izu, Dalmacio Payomo, Marina Fukashima, Joseph Hernandez, and Celine Alwyn-Parker, who join Aoki and Izu to present this ancient story with 21st century sensibility and relevance. Lighting design is by long-time local designer Jack Carpenter.
Brenda Wong Aoki is a playwright and performer. Her multidisciplinary performances weave together Japanese Noh, Kyogen Theater, Comedia Dell'Arte, movement and voice. She has performed in such venues as the Kennedy Center, New Victory Theater on Broadway, Hong Kong Performing Arts Center, the Adelaide International Festival in Australia, the Esplanade in Singapore, the Graz Festival Austria and the International House in Tokyo.
Aoki's plays have been produced world-wide: Mermaid, a work for symphony, was commissioned by Maestro Kent Nagano, the award-winning Queen's Garden was published by Routledge Press and produced at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, Uncle Gunjiro's Girlfriend was the American representative to the Adelaide International Festival, Australia, Random Acts was produced by the Dallas Theater Center, Kuan-Yin: Our Lady of Compassion was commissioned by the Hong Kong International Festival and performed at the Esplanade in Singapore, and Obake: Tales of Spirits Past and Present was presented at the Kennedy Center and on Broadway at the New Victory Theater. Her CD recordings of The Queen's Garden and Tales of the Pacific Rim were awarded Indie Awards for Best Spoken Word Her song/dance/dramas are drawn from her grandfather's memories of San Francisco during the Great Earthquake, Kabuki legends and personal experience. Known for her agility across disciplines, she creates monodramas for symphony, dance, solo performance, taiko & jazz ensembles.
One of America's premiere storytellers, Aoki performs regularly at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough TN. She is the featured storyteller in Oral Tradition Through Time Houghton Mifflin/ McDougal-Littell. Brenda's book, Mermaid Meat the Secret to Immortality was published in 2009. Her monodramas are included in the book Extreme Exposure (Theater Communications Group, New York 2000) edited by Jo Bonney.
Earlier this year, Aoki received the Inspirational Leadership in the Performing Arts award from San Francisco Mayor, Ed Lee. Other awards include a U.S.-Japan Creative Artist Fellows 2008, two NEA Solo Theater Fellowships, ASCAP Plus Awards, Critic's Circle Award, four Hollywood Drama-logue awards and two INDIE Awards for Best Spoken Word recordings. She has deep roots in San Francisco. Her grandfather was a founder of Japantown in the 1890's, and her grandmother was a leader of the first Chinatown garment union. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, Mark Izu and son, Kai Kane Aoki Izu.
Mark Izu, known for his integration of jazz with global modalities and instrumentation, composes for orchestra, jazz ensemble, film, theater and dance; plays contra bass, the sheng (Chinese traditional multi-reed instrument) and the sho (Japanese tradition multi-reed instrument). The only symphonic sho composer in the world, Izu premiered Mermaid, an orchestral work for Kent Nagano and the Berkeley Symphony. In 2005, he wrote the sho solo for The Manzanar Project, also with Nagano. He received a 2009 Emmy for Bolinao 52, a documentary about the Vietnamese boat people. Izu's CD, Threading Time features the final recording of Togi Suenobu with Zakir Hussain (tabla), and was released in Tokyo, where it received Tokyo's Critic's Choice for Top 10 jazz releases of 2008.
Izu's film scores include Academy Award-winning Days of Waiting; Emmy; Award winning, Return to the Valley; and a new score for the silent masterpiece, Dragon Painter. His theater scores were performed at the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and Sundance Festival. He was awarded a Dramalogue Award and two INDIE Awards for composition. Izu has received three Meet the Composer Commissions, a Japan/US Creative Artist Fellowship, and an ASCAP Award. Izu is a founding faculty member of Stanford University's Institute of Diversity in the Arts.
Kimi Okada (Choreographer) is the Associate Choreographer and a founding member of ODC Dance where she has choreographed over 25 works. Her work also includes commissions and collaborations with Geoff Hoyle, Bill Irwin, Julie Taymor, and Robin Williams. She has choreographed productions for the American Conservatory Theater/San Francisco, Yale Repertory Theater, The New Victory Theater in New York, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, The Santa Fe Opera, Los Angeles Music Center Opera, Los Angeles Theatre Center, The Pickle Family Circus, and the San Francisco Mime Troupe, among others. She received a Tony nomination for the Broadway production of Largely New York, which she co-choreographed with Bill Irwin. Since 1996, Ms. Okada has served as Director of the ODC School.
Bay Area Costume Designer Debra Beaver Bauer has designed numerous productions for Berkeley Rep, ACT, Cal Shakes, The Magic, Theatre Works and many other local companies. Her work has also taken her to Washington DC and New York City. She served as Resident Designer for Teatro Zinzanni for more than ten years, and her circus roots have taken her to Russia and productions in Japan. Her expertise in dance design had her work for San Francisco Ballet, Margaret Jenkins Dance, skating productions for NBC, and various arenas around the country. She is currently designing costumes for Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike at Berkeley Rep.
Tickets ($25) for the performances on September 27 and 28 at 8 pm, or September 29 at 2 pm, may be purchased through the JCCSF Box Office at 415/292-1233 or online at www.jccsf.org/arts. The JCCSF is located at 3200 California Street at Presidio.