Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Visual and Performing Arts
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
Acting | Theatre and Performance Studies
Tokoyo: A Story of Cultural Movement is an exploration of Japanese culture through performance. The piece incorporates stylized, ritualistic, and contemporary movement. The device used to portray our research was a folk tale told solely through physical expression. Music by Japanese composers and projections of the country supported the movement and helped to tell the story of the culture.
We were deep into our research when we embarked on our trip to Japan to observe the specificity of the culture in everyday life and performance. Everything that we read, watched, and took part in manifested itself in the final presentation. The stylistic form of the piece was influenced by our studies and experiences within the Syracuse University Drama Department. We used a Japanese traditional folk tale about a young girl named Tokoyo to demonstrate both the physical culture and the societal priorities of the Japanese people.
The process began with rigorous research of everything from the mie poses of Kabuki theatre to the way in which Japanese people board a subway car. Once we learned all that we could from books and videos we were fortunate enough to travel to Tokyo to immerse ourselves in the culture. In Tokyo we furthered our understanding of the Japanese lifestyle through observation, conversation, and participation.
The process of developing an entertaining and educational piece of theatre began with story boarding, developing characters, and devising a way to include traditional and contemporary movement in one unified performance piece. We started our choreography of the story with a prologue to establish the relationship between the two central characters: Tokoyo and her father. Each movement was specific to what we had learned in our research and placed in the piece to demonstrate an aspect of gestural language. This made the work of creating the performance twice as difficult, not only focusing on storytelling but on the research that we had accumulated.
The piece was well received by audiences that left the theatre with opened eyes to a culture so far from their own as well as an avant-garde theatre style. Though the audience didn’t understand or acknowledge the significance of every single nuance of the culture, they understood the themes of the story and the underlying emotions of the characters. Our performance educated our audience on a culture of which they may have had no prior knowledge. To do so through movement is extremely powerful. Movement has no language barrier and though the gestures may seem foreign the feelings emoted are clear. Body language is the ultimate communicator; watching an American member of our audience moved to tears by an unknown Japanese phrase of movement proves that this is true. This universal connection of humanity is just what we sought to demonstrate when we decided to explore cultural movement.
Rolfes, Chelsea, "Tokoyo: A Story of Cultural Movement" (2011). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 235.
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