Without speaking a word, Japanese-born NYC-based creator and performer Sachiyo Takahashi – a three-time grant recipient from The Jim Henson Foundation in 2017, 2018, and 2021, for her innovative work in the field of puppetry – tells audiences a beautiful story that we all need right now in her original piece SHEEP #1 at the Japan Society, this year celebrating the 50th anniversary of its landmark building with a season focused on women theater-makers in New York.
Described by the innovative artist as “Microscopic Live Cinema-Theatre,” the inventive performance (which premiered at Off-Broadway’s The Tank in 2018), combines the artist’s manipulation of miniature figurines (the toy “troupe members” of Nekaa Lab – her “eternal playground for the curious mind,” founded in 2006), which she captures and magnifies in live-feed video projections on a large screen, with an electro-acoustic soundscape and live musical accompaniment. Presented in two unique programs playing this weekend only, one version features Emile Blondel (currently on the faculty of Brooklyn Conservatory of Music and the Dalton School) on piano, the other Kato Hideki (who has performed at Lincoln Center, MOMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London) on bass guitar. Each conveys a distinct mood and effects a new vision of Takahashi’s original tale.
Inspired by the writings of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (The Little Prince), the enchanting sensory fable (with concept, sound design, visual design, and performance by Takahashi/Nekaa Lab) engenders a dreamlike sensibility as it follows the adventures of one lone Sheep searching for the meaning of life. The pacing is deliberately slow, the movements silent, and the narrative abstract, minimal, and suggestive, with the camerawork intentionally moving in and out of focus between scenes, to allow the audience’s subconscious to take hold.
Though nothing is spoken, there are written words on bits of paper (some quoted from Saint-Exupéry, some original text by Takahashi) that give us hints about the Sheep’s journey, prompt our imaginations, and elicit our emotional responses, as the eponymous figure departs on a humorously circuitous route through melting ice and penguins, an encounter with a forceful robot and a delicate ballerina in a musical jewel box, and a heartwarming meeting with a cuddly Rabbit. They like each other and form a friendship, as they exchange amusing thoughts that we can read, about who they are (the Rabbit is a philosopher) and what they do (philosophers think; sheep eat – including the Rabbit’s words), before the Sheep returns home.
We, too, are encouraged by Takahashi’s lovely parable of human nature to think, to digest alternate perspectives, and to contemplate what is meaningful in life, before heading back home from this entertaining and affecting experience that you shouldn’t miss and won’t ever forget.
Running Time: 45 minutes, without intermission.
SHEEP #1 plays through November 7, 2021, at the Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street, NYC. For tickets ($23 general admission; $18 Japan Society members), call the box office at (212) 715-1258, or go online. In compliance with COVID-19 protocol, visitors will be required to show proof of vaccination and to wear a proper secure-fitting mask at each performance.
You can watch the trailer here: