Verity Lane brings Orizuru to life through an exploration of love, loyalty and labour. Idgie Beau reviews Origami Soundscapes/ The Crane in the Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn 2019 season:

A blank piece of paper presents a world of opportunity and potential for creation. It bears the possibility for us to take pride in, and love, something new, to overcome the frustrations and pain that inevitably form part of the process of creating. Whether we create paper cranes, performance pieces, or even families, the process follows a similar pattern.

Verity Lane’s new unorthodox work Origami Soundscapes/ The Crane questions the definitions and parameters of the opera genre, while exploring our understanding of creation, love and loyalty in life.

Origami Soundscapes Crane Grimeborn Arcola Theatre
Origami Soundscapes/ The Crane

The first piece, Origami Soundscapes: Flower, Bird, Wind & Moon, begins with a collection of instruments and objects placed within a clean, white square stretching out in front like paper. Coco Sato sits downstage, folding tiny cherry blossom flowers. Her performance is carefully guided by Tomoko Komura reading a series of poems and stories exploring traditional Japanese symbolism. Punctuating the narration is Kiku Day’s haunting performance on the shakuhachi, and percussionist Beibei Wang creating an incredible, ambient soundscape that drives the piece.

With each new story, Sato’s paper creations change and increase in size, becoming more unwieldy and exhausting for her to manipulate, culminating in an enormous orizuru – a paper crane. Wang’s musical manipulation of the surfaces, objects and instruments around her enriches the overall piece, which becomes more like a sensory experience than a performance. Her soundscape nimbly fluctuates between organic sounds of water and wind, to more harsh, metallic and engineered tones, providing an unwavering diegetic narrative.

Origami Soundscapes explores how creation is an act of love and of labour, how both theatrical and origami art forms are inherently ephemeral in nature. While it has room for technical improvement as a piece of performance, it is so oddly relaxing and serene that this does not diminish the trance-like effect it has on the audience.

Origami Soundscapes Crane Grimeborn Arcola Theatre
Origami Soundscapes/ The Crane

Conversely, The Crane is a frenetic and bombastic retelling of a traditional Japanese folk story, where a crane takes human form and is raised by an elderly couple. In this second piece, Day and Wang are joined by a chorus of vocalists/ percussionists who fiercely punctuate the piece with intentionally discordant operatic singing.

The Crane is a more overt experiment in blending operatic forms and conventions with traditional Japanese symbolism and Noh theatre practices. The elderly couple (Tomoko Komura and Hester Dart) are presented by performers wearing traditional Noh masks, allowing for the actors to devote more expression to their vocal and physical performances, similarly to how opera singers do the same through music. Mirei Yazawa performs as the crane, exploring the narrative through dance and physicality alongside expressive projected animations by Rowan O’Brien. The design of The Crane is simple and graceful, incongruous with the jarring aural assault of the piece’s musical landscape.

This second piece is less approachable and yet it still builds on the themes presented in Origami Soundscapes. Through the elderly couple’s eventual realisation that their child, the crane, needs to be free and literally spread her wings, the piece continues the themes of struggling with our own creations and how we enact our loyalty to those we love most. While the piece itself presents a more uncomfortable experience for the viewer, it is no less compelling.

Origami Soundscapes Crane Grimeborn Arcola Theatre
Origami Soundscapes/ The Crane

As an opera Origami Soundscapes/ The Crane is unconventional and radical, yet manages to achieve the most basic requirement of the genre in having the music be the main character – the most prominent element of the piece. It will not appeal to all audiences and lovers of traditional opera, and it is still in need of further development as a performance piece, but it is likely to be one of the more brave and exciting pieces at Grimeborn this year.

★★★☆☆