Yorktown’s "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" won a theater competition in February. But the real payoff for the students came this week.
Drama students at Yorktown High School worked through the summer and fall to adapt the Norwegian folk tale for the stage, incorporating stylized movements, puppetry and no props at all, and went on to win a Feb. 11 one-act competition sponsored by the Virginia High School League. The play went on to win third place at the state level.
This week, the students got to see some of the tradition behind the movements, costumes and puppetry in their play, as Japanese artist Shizumi Manale conducted a weeklong workshop for the school’s drama students.
"Shizumi incorporates elements of all the traditional Japanese arts: dance, music, theater, calligraphy and poetry," said Carol Cadby, drama teacher at Yorktown. "She covers a traditional foundation and moves from ancient to modern."
That will cover some of the same ground that Cadby covered when she and Yorktown’s Theater 4 class put together "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" last year.
"I incorporate a lot of stylized movement in everything I do," Cadby said. The source was a Norwegian folk tale, with all of the classic elements of a fairy tale, she said. A young girl falls in love and then has to go on a quest to realize her love.
In this particular fairy tale, however, the girl falls in love with a giant bear. She is bewitched by an evil queen – in this case, her mother – and must visit each of the four winds, North, South, East and West, before finding happiness.
As the girl visits each wind, she is played by a different actress, representing her growth as a character, Cadby said, until "she is carried by the four winds to a land east of the sun, west of the moon."
<b>STUDENTS WORKED</b> to adapt the play over last summer. Ali Millan, 18, now a senior at Yorktown, said she and her classmates struggled with the adaptation.
"One of our big ideas was, we wanted it to be like watching a moving storybook," Millan said. "A lot of Asian movements lent themselves to that idea. One image folds on top of the other. There was a lot of acrobatic movement, visual pauses and unnatural movement to heighten the atmosphere."
In addition, there would be no sets, no props aside from the puppets. Actors used their bodies to form furniture onstage. All of the elements came together surprisingly well, Millan said.
"I wasn’t sure this thing was ever going to make it to the stage," she said. "Getting our creative ideas and the movement to fit with the script, to get the whole thing to make sense, and do it within budget and with the people we had – it’s amazing to see this thing alive and on its feet."
The running time was short, Cadby said, only 35 minutes, but still managed to incorporate puppets, the giant bear and the evil queen, and dances to varied music.
"We added a twist, and the four winds represent different religions," Cadby said. "We were very stylized in developing those four different winds."
That led to a set piece very similar to what Shizumi will be teaching all of Yorktown’s theater students this week. In the play, the East Wind was Asian. "She actually wore kimonos and spoke Japanese," Millan said.
<b>SHIZUMI TAUGHT STUDENTS</b> how to move in a kimono this week. But her goal will be much more basic, she said.
"I try to teach internal expression, in dance and in theater," said the dancer and actress, who is coming off a March 24 performance at the Kennedy Center.
In performance, she uses fans, robes, swords and calligraphy in a look at traditional forms of Japanese theater. But in Yorktown’s theater classes, she emphasized energy and poetry.
"I teach to pull your energy from the heaven to the earth," she said. "I’ll concentrate on energy from the earth, from gravity."
She also looked at a form of physical haiku, incorporating American Sign Language onstage to perform haiku "with the hands and with the eyes."
Most of all, the workshops focused on space, she said, "the space between movements. Space is very important to musical composers, so I will try to teach them about that as well."