SAN FRANCISCO — 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 Debra Beaver Bauer.
Based on a Japanese legend, “MU” is a beguiling tale both otherworldly and deeply personal. Three performances take place in Kanbar Hall on Friday, Sept. 27, and Saturday, Sept. 28, at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Sept. 29.
It is the tale of a lonely young man who is walking along the streets of San Francisco, deep into the music on his mobile device, when he is suddenly pulled into the ocean. He saves a beautiful mermaid and is rewarded with a journey to the Palace of the Dragon Queen at the bottom of the sea. But poison from the Land Above threatens her kingdom and the young man must fight this or the mermaid will die. The young man learns that all is connected — there is only one ocean and one world.
“MU” is an archetypal hero’s journey brought to life by an extraordinary ensemble of dancers and musicians.
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. He 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 dancescape that includes hip-hop, modern and Japanese classical movement.
Bauer’s costumes bring the magico-realist story to life against the mysterious underwater pyramids of Yonaguni, the setting for the music and dance drama. The legendary lost continent of Mu is said to be the land of the sun that flourished in peace before the dawn of time and was home to the last Dragon Queen.
Tickets 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 St. (at Presidio) in San Francisco.
The commissioning of this premiere is made possible by The Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Collaboration Awards 2010, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, National Endowment for the Arts and Rhythmix Cultural Works, with additional support from Grants for the Arts, San Francisco Arts Commission, Zellerbach Family Fund and individual donors.
Additional tour dates: Oct. 3-4 at the Krannert Center in Urbana, Ill.; Oct. 10-11 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert.
For more information on First Voice, visit www.aokizu.com.
About the Artists
Brenda Wong Aoki is a playwright and performer. Her song/dance/dramas are drawn from her grandfather’s memories of San Francisco during the great earthquake of 1906, kabuki legends and personal experience. Known for her agility across disciplines, she creates monodramas for symphony, dance, solo performance, taiko and jazz ensembles.
Aoki’s plays have been produced worldwide and include:
“Mermaid” (1997), Torrance and Berkeley symphonies, commissioned by Kent Nagano
“Kuan-yin: Our Lady of Compassion” (2002), Hong Kong Cultural Center, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Esplanade in Singapore;
“Uncle Gunjiro’s Girlfriend” (1998, 2002, 2007), developed with the San Jose Rep, the Dell Arte Players Company; named the U.S. representative to the Adelaide International Festival in Australia; featured in the KTVU documentary “San Francisco in the 1920s”
“The Queen’s Garden” (1992, 2011), Climate Theater and San Diego Repertory Theater; published in “Contemporary Plays by Women of Color” (Routledge Press, London)
“Obake: Tales of Spirits Past and Present” (1998, 2005), presented at the Kennedy Center and on Broadway at the New Victory Theater
“Return of the Sun” (2009), commissioned by the Ethnic Dance Festival and for dance ensembles from Korea, India, Peru and Mexico.
“Kabuki Cabarets” (2010, 2011), presented at the San Jose Jazz Festival, Kuumbwa, and Yoshi’s
One of America’s premier storytellers, Aoki performs regularly at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn. She is the featured storyteller in “Oral Tradition Through Time” (Houghton Mifflin/McDougal-Littell).
Her book “Mermaid Meat: The Secret to Immortality” was released in Tokyo 2009. Her monodramas are included in the book “Extreme Exposure” (Theater Communications Group, New York 2000), edited by Jo Bonney.
She has recorded with Anthony Brown, Christopher Yohmei Blaisdel and Basque composer Kepa Junkera.
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 Fellowship in 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 1890s, and her grandmother was a leader of the first Chinatown garment union. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, Mark Izu, and their son, Kai Kane Aoki Izu.
Mark Izu is known for his integration of jazz with global modalities and instrumentation, composes for orchestra, jazz ensemble, film, theater and dance; and 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.
Izu received a 2009 Emmy for “Bolinao 52,” a documentary about the Vietnamese boat people.
His CD “Threading Time” features the final recording of Togi Suenobu with Zakir Hussain (tabla) and was released in Japan, where it received Tokyo’s Critic’s Choice for top 10 jazz releases of 2008.
Izu’s film scores include Steven Okazaki’s Academy Award-winning documentary “Days of Waiting”; the Emmy Award-winning KTEH documentary “Return to the Valley”; and a new score for the silent masterpiece “Dragon Painter,” starring Sessue Hayakawa.
His theater scores have been 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-U.S. 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 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, Okada has served as director of the ODC School.
Debra Beaver Bauer has designed numerous productions for Berkeley Rep, ACT, Cal Shakes, The Magic, TheatreWorks and many other local companies. Her work has also taken her to Washington, D.C. 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 led to 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.
“MU” features musicians Masaru Koga, Janet Koike, Shoko Hikage, Yumi Ishihara, and Akira Tana; and dancers Kai Kane Aoki Izu, Dalmacio Payomo, Marina Fukushima, Joseph Hernandez, and Celine Alwyn-Parker. Lighting design is by long-time local designer Jack Carpenter.