Birthday Present for Myself is about love (and death)

Hiromoto Ida assembles A-list collaborators for boundary-pushing show

Hiromoto Ida's main character is portrayed using a traditional Japanese Noh theatre mask. Ida

Hiromoto Ida says his newest work, Birthday Present for Myself, is about love.

“Love gets clearer and brighter when it is near death,” he says. “Maybe that’s the last thing you bring with you when you go.”

The production is difficult to categorize.

“It is beyond dance and beyond theatre and beyond music,” says assistant director Lindsay Clague. “It bridges all these disciplines, and the story is beautiful. And everything Hiro does is amazing.”

The production will run on the Capitol Theatre stage on November 18 and 19. Ida, named Nelson’s official cultural ambassador in 2012, is the writer, director, dancer, choreographer and principal actor.

He plays an old man during the last hours of his life and the first hours of his death, along with Allison Girvan as his wife who died a few years previously but who appears to him and interacts with him in the play. The day of the old man’s death also happens to be his birthday.

Ida’s character sometimes wears a mask in the style of the Japanese Noh theatre tradition.

“Everyone involved with the project has fallen in love with it,” says Girvan. “We all feel so passionate about it. It’s the vulnerability of the piece.”

She says the format is unconventional because of the mixing of disciplines, and the pacing might not be what audiences are used to.

“It is slower. Things are spoon-fed to us so quickly these days, and with such volume, that it is going to take some bravery on the part of the audience to remember what it is like not to have things come at you fast and furious.”

From left, back: Doug Scott, Allison Girvan, Hiromoto Ida, Olivia Bogaard. Seated: Lindsay Clague, Thomas Loh.

The subject matter is part of the vulnerability, Girvan says.

“We all have lost someone or are sick ourselves. The great unifying factor is that we all will die. This piece does not shy away from that. The nice thing is that it balances it with humourous moments as well.”

Set designer Thomas Loh agrees.

“This project brings a new light to my understanding of death and what that means to me,” he says. “So it is a very healthy thing in my mind. This is just another way of using art and theatre to take you on a journey, and you come out: ‘Yeah, I am alive, what a beautiful thing.’

“I feel the more you look (at death) the more life becomes beautiful,” Loh says. “The more you push it away the more the struggle. Every moment, every bit of now, is so precious and magical.”

Birthday Present for Myself will feature five musicians on stage pictured below from left beside Ida: soprano Allison Girvan, cellist Jeff Farragher, pianist Sue Gould, clarinetist Nicola Everton, and violinist Martine den Bok (not pictured). (Photo by James Tucker.)

The music is by the contemporary Russian composer Pavel Karamanov.

Also among the impressive list of collaborators: lighting design by Sharon Huizinga, sound design by John Tucker, stage management by Olivia Bogaard, stage construction by Doug Scott.

Asked why people should see the piece, Scott says, “To see the artistry of Hiro. Those two, Hiro and Thomas Loh, have a unique aesthetic and a long history of working together. This not a Doug Scott set, this is a Hiro and Thomas set. Thomas built a model and I am turning it into the real thing.”

“Or as I like to call it,” he adds, “the carpentry of illusion”

Scott has been the go-to set builder for Nelson theatre since the 1990s. Birthday Present for Myself will be his last. He’s retiring after they tour the piece to Golden later this month.

Ida says if he is still alive 25 years from now he’s going to perform Birthday Present again. If anyone shows up at the door with their saved ticket from this 2016 production, that’s an automatic free admission, he says. This year he is also giving free admission to anyone whose birthday is on November 18 or 19, the dates of the production.

Tickets for Birthday Present for Myself are available at the Capitol Theatre box office or online at capitoltheatre.bc.ca.

 

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