Ground and Floor

22, 23, 24, 25/05 – 20:30
JP > FR / NL
1h 30min

One of the key figures at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Toshiki Okada develops a “theatre of alienation” in which the delicacy of its form intensifies the power of its intention. In Japan he is among the leading voices of his generation – one plunged into profound apathy by the economic crisis and the catastrophe at Fukushima. With Ground and Floor, which is created at the festival’s invitation, Okada questions the possibility of thinking differently in a Japanese society paralysed by conformism. He sketches out a female character attempting to confront the silence around her. Original music by Tokyo trio Sangatsu provides the score for a show where discursive restraint opens up a space for the movements and rustlings of bodies – their silences too. Soberly, but not without humour, Okada lays bare the fear, the feelings of distrust and the need for confirmation. Ground and Floor is a moving metaphor for contemporary Japanese society…

Playwriting & direction
Toshiki Okada

Taichi Yamagata, Makoto Yazawa, Yukiko Sasaki, Mari Ando, Izumi Aoyagi


Set designer
Shusaku Futamura

Sebastian Breu

Yuko Ikeda (Luna Luz)

Stage director
Koro Suzuki

Sound director
Norimasa Ushikawa

Lighting director
Tomomi Ohira

Lighting operator
Azusa Ono

Video director
Shimpei Yamada

Akane Nakamura

Company manager
Tamiko Ouki

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre Varia


Executive production
chelfitsch (Tokyo)

Associated production
precog (Tokyo)

Festival d'Automne à Paris, Les Spectacles vivants - Centre Pompidou (Paris), HAU Hebbel am Ufer (Berlin), La Bâtie - Festival de Genève, KAAT (Kanagawa Arts Theater), Kyoto Experiment, De Internationale Keuze van de Rotterdamse Schouwburg, Dublin Theatre Festival, Théâtre Garonne, Onassis Cultural Center (Athènes)

Special thanks to
Steep Slope Studio, Nao Kusumi (Anatomy lecture)

Supported by
Arts Council Tokyo

Back to top

Musical theatre with ghostly apparitions

Ground and Floor is musical theatre. The performance is quite straightforward, in the sense that it is made up of two orthodox elements, namely 'music' and 'theatre'. Our attempt was to make music and theatre share the time/space of the stage (for that is our own definition of musical theatre), to make this process of sharing as astonishing as possible, and to present it to the audience in the most vivid shape attainable. This task sounds very simple when put into words. However, it was very difficult to realize. We thought of no other group of musicians than Sangatsu for taking up this challenge with us. We place full trust in this band, who have already composed music several times in the past for works by chelfitsch. No doubt partly because they have known and worked with us for a long time, Sangatsu are able to smoothly follow even our most abstruse lines of thought. This may be due to our common ground in respect of outlook and aspirations. It is easy to strike empathetic chords with them.

Music is the perfect catalyst for creating an awareness of time and space and allowing people to share both of them. The main reason we decided to put together a piece of 'musical theatre' this time can be found in that very fact. Whether the power of music can be used to its full extent or not, ultimately depends on whether the actors can successfully share the time/space of the stage with music as their roommate. Having these two elements merely existing side-by-side does not mean that such a form of sharing has already taken place. The relationship between the two will only end up being superficial if the performance is too heavily influenced by the music's rhythm or emotional mood. Conversely, the piece will lack flavour if the two are juxtaposed but isolated in separate layers, like a salad dressing that has not been mixed well before pouring (doing so would be very easy). If so, nothing really magical would occur, no matter how richly the theatre space is filled with the sounds of Sangatsu.

What's important for the relationship between music and theatre - and also for this piece as a whole - is, first of all, that the actors listen to the sounds. Secondly, they need to maintain a close relationship with the mutual feedback that occurs between music and performance. This approach should enable the words spoken by the actors, and also their physical bodies themselves, to co-exist on the same plane as the music. It also enables both sides to share the stage equally. Although this idea is simple enough, its execution is by no means routine, much less easy to achieve. In Ground and Floor, for example, ghosts appear. The transformation of a flesh-and-blood actor into a ghost is, in the final analysis, an event that occurs with a subtle change that demands this sort of ability.

There is nothing new about the concept of musical theatre as a sharing between theatre and music per se. It has been around since ancient times; in Japan, for example, in the Noh theatre genre. In fact, Ground and Floor draws on the Noh style to a certain extent. In it, ghosts appear, as noted above, and many of you surely know that Noh is theatre which is basically performed by the spirits of the dead.

I, personally, remain deeply affected by the huge earthquake that struck Japan in 2011 and the far-reaching impact it has had on Japanese society as a whole. This is by no means unrelated to the fact that Ground and Floor takes up the relationship between the living and the dead. I could no longer avoid thinking about our ties to the dead. Naturally, the effect it has had on me does not end there. The various states of apprehension left by the disaster have not been diminished one bit in my mind. Apprehension about life, society, politics, and about Japan itself. I ended up plastering them all over this piece. I wrote Ground and Floor in order to ponder the situation of a conflict of interest between the dead and the living. Lately I have begun to think that a bigger 'diplomatic effort' ought to be made to reconcile the interests of the two sides. I can't help but feel that we have really neglected to make such an effort.

Over the last two years, the focus of my concern has shifted from the search for new forms of theatre to using its 'hardware' - ancient cultural technology - in a way that is meaningful to present-day society. The two may not appear to differ greatly, but there is a world of difference between them as regards their underlying conception. I have suddenly been freed from the framework of judgments that label theatre as new or old, and this freedom is another effect brought on by the earthquake disaster and the situation that followed in its wake.

Sebastian Breu & Toshiki Okada (chelfitsch)


What we tried to do in Current Location, the previous chelfitsch piece, was to make music related to the lighting and set design. For Ground and Floor, we are bringing an approach that is closer to the actors. We took to heart the inevitability of the actors and music being together on stage, and decided to create states of natural coexistence for sound and the human body, along with several relational patterns between the two. For these reasons, we composed music to fit the respective actors. For one actor, we made music that would seem to pass through the body; for another, we strove for sounds that would exert direct pressure. In some cases, we set out to make music in which things happen separately from the occurrences in the stage performance, and aimed for a sporadic dovetailing with the movements of the actors. We will be delighted if these attempts have the desired effect and produce a closely-knit give-and-take between sound and the human body.

Atsuhiro Koizumi (Sangatsu)

Back to top

Playwright and director Toshiki Okada was born in Yokohama in 1973. He formed the theatre company chelfitsch in 1997. Since then he has written and directed all of the company’s productions, practising a distinctive methodology for creating plays, and has become known for his use of extremely colloquial Japanese and unique choreography. In 2005, his play Five Days in March won the prestigious 49th Kishida Kunio Drama Award. Okada participated in the Toyota Choreography Award in 2005 with Air Conditioner (Cooler) (2005), garnering much attention. In February 2007 his collection of novels, Watashitachi ni Yurusareta Tokubetsu na Jikan no Owari (The End of the Special Time We Were Allowed), was published and awarded the Kenzaburō Ōe Prize. He has been on the jury for the Kishida Kunio Drama Award since 2012.

chelfitsch was named after a deliberate mispronunciation of the English word “selfish”. The company began to refine its textual aesthetic as one of colloquial language representing contemporary youth culture. With Five Days in March, which premiered in 2004 and won the prestigious Kunio Kishida Award for Best Script, the company began to juxtapose a noisy choreography derived from everyday mannerisms with the text. The company’s international debut took place in 2007 when Five Days in March was first invited to the Kunstenfestivaldesarts. chelfitsch’s works have been presented to great acclaim at leading international theatre festivals and venues throughout Europe, North America and Asia. In 2011, Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner and the Farewell Speech won the critics’ award from the Association québécoise des critiques de théâtre for the 2010-2011 season.

Back to top