Shaken out of the everyday

Nicola Fearn: Yumi Umiumare with Theatre Gumbo, DasSHOKU SHAKE!




If you want to be seized and dropped into a bizarre and cacophonous world of extreme entertainment then see DasShoku SHAKE!—a Japanese Australian butoh cabaret extravaganza. Inspired by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan this production is an exploration of the shaking of the physical world, the psychological self and culture.

In a series of butoh/cabaret acts linked by Yumi Umiumare’s character searching for “the Light” in a world that is unravelling, the audience is exposed to a heightened and exuberant subverting of cultural stereotypes—the Japanese businessman frantically bowing and pressing his business card on members of the audience before losing his intestines, the mother dressed in outrageous pink, vomiting at the smell of her child and inhaling air freshener, the very ‘nice’ and too clean American girl/boy pair, fast-food culture, office workers, game show hosts, dancing poo, a fairy-tale that appears drug-fuelled, a parody of sex and desire with a woman in a costume of numerous huge breasts that dancers crawl after and suck on, modern Geisha in grand punk/Geisha costume, orgasms and balloons. It’s all here, in your face and as gripping as it is deliberately excessive and carefully crafted.

DasShoku SHAKE! immerses us in an extreme state in which people have experienced the unimaginable. The butoh-trained performers are compelling. When they shake from their core they seem almost inhuman.

There are moments of quiet within this maelstrom that touch on the simplicity of life. The electronic blips, drum beats and static stop. Umiumare alone on stage, spotlit, asks the audience if we’re following so far. She searches for clarity in the program, asks us how we’re going and then advises us to “breathe deep and return to who you are.”

In among the wild excess of the cabaret-punk costumes and a driving soundtrack that goes from cheesy tunes to grand classical to unsettling electronica, there are bone-chilling moments as unseen performers move inside huge silver tubes to embody nuclear seepage from a wrecked reactor.




In a show awash with invention the makers of DasShoku SHAKE! satisfyingly use the common device of repeating an opening image to bring the work full circle. In the first scene the ‘ordinary girl’ (Umiumare) holds a round mirror that obscures her face as she journeys through the madness around her looking for the Light. At the end of the performance she returns changed by the journey, wigless, head shaven and emotionally naked with the mirror held up but now cracked.

After all the mayhem and delight the piece has arrived at a brilliantly performed butoh solo—Umiumare crying as she retreats, drawn backwards towards the light, which ultimately consumes her. It is emotionally gutting, but full of hope.

Yumi Umiumare says this piece is “a modern ritual for both calming and provoking the souls and paying homage to the departed…” She adds that “the Japanese indigenous Ainu people consider ‘shaking the spirit’ as simply ‘thinking’…” (program note).

I felt greedy for it and shaken out of the ordinariness of everyday life.

2013 Darwin Festival, Yumi Umiumare with Theatre Gumbo and DasShoku Triangle. DasSHOKU SHAKE!, concept Yumi Umiumare and Theatre Gumbo, direction Yumi Umiumare, Kayo Tamure in collaboration with the artists, set design Ellen Strasser, sound design Dan West, lighting design Tony Moore; George Brown Botanic Gardens, Darwin, Aug 20-22

The NT Writers’ Centre’s RealTime Workshop project is supported by the Australian Government Regional Arts Fund and the Northern Territory Government.

For reviews of the 2013 Darwin Festival by Mike Bodnar, Kaye Hall, Fiona Carter, Kyle Walmsley and Nicola Fearn go to www.realtimearts.net/features.

RealTime issue #117 Oct-Nov 2013 pg. web

© Nicola Fearn; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

26 August 2013