Screening of new Dumb Type performance 2020
By Aoki Jun

Photo by Fukunaga Kazuo
Dumb Type were due to debut 2020, their first new performance for eighteen years, on March 28 and 29, 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision to cancel was made just prior to this, on March 23. Yet on the 24th, the following day, stage setup began, and on the days originally scheduled, the performance took place, minus an audience. It was also recorded on video.

Six screenings in all of this video were held from October 16 to 18 at the original venue, the South Hall of the ROHM Theater Kyoto.

Photo by Inoue Yoshikazu

Starting time came, and following a short pause after the lights had gone down, a giant lantern emerged from the gloom with a loud bang, hanging from a sturdy wire, and swaying with great force. The light from the lantern first illuminated the left of the stage, then drew an arc past the middle to light up the right, before returning to the left. As the swing of the light gradually grew smaller, we in the audience realized that in the bare center of the stage was a large square hole of deep black, and standing to the right of the stage, a woman. This state of affairs is revealed in a shot capturing the whole of the stage from the front, in the dark, and appears suddenly out of nowhere, so for a moment we forget it is a video, and mistake it for a live performance.

Then, the camera zooms in on the woman at the right of the stage. This finally pulls us back to the reality that what we are looking at is not a live performance, but a filmed one. The woman turns to the black square in the middle, and slowly moves toward it. The lantern continues to swing like a pendulum. A voice intones, “What is the geography?” Then, “What is the earth?” The woman squats down, and from the edge of the black hole, peers into its depths. “What is the shape of the earth?”

Photo by Inoue Yoshikazu

Thus the performance commences around the missing heart of the stage, the absent center that is usually of utmost importance, but at this point, we have no way of knowing whether this hole will remain until the end of the performance. In saying that, it is not long before we start to think the hole likely will be there to the finish, because as a string of episodes play out in turn, each is predicated on the presence of this square black maw, and performed accordingly.

Chairs are placed around the sides of the hole, making it resemble a table. A black square of the same dimensions forms a perpendicular screen that descends in mid-air in the center of the stage. This screen conceals the faces of five people in suits, seated on the chairs.
Multiple hands appear on the screen, and freely exchange cards. Flickering on this giant square is an image of “Big Brother” reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s “1984” commercial for Apple. Just as the center of the stage is absent, at the end the record played by the DJ turns into a performance solely of white noise, as the needle slips across the center label devoid of any sound recording.
What are substantially different episodes—dance-like, theatrical, serious and humorous—mixing and mingling, appearing and disappearing in quick succession, are joined as one by that square black hole at center stage.

Photo by Inoue Yoshikazu

Photo by Fukunaga Kazuo

Photo by Fukunaga Kazuo

Photo by Fukunaga Kazuo

After each performance, a talk is given by Dumb Type members. For the performance I watched, the speakers were Takatani Shiro and Hirai Yuko.

Apparently the new work was commissioned by ROHM Theater Kyoto program director Hashimoto Yusuke in the autumn of 2017, with the content gradually being finalized in a subsequent series of workshops and rehearsals. Hirai remarked however that despite everyone taking the trouble to get together, rehearsals would invariably degenerate into endless debate. An ever-changing cast commencing the performance with whatever takes shape from the ideas brought to the table by each, as part of an ongoing discussion, updating with new ideas over time, is the Dumb Type modus operandi, and precisely because they have retained that style for the 36 years of their existence, even this new work felt like a “culmination” of all their previous endeavors. The application of this dynamic format one might refer to as the Dumb Type program, and the moving body it produces, are what Dumb Type are about.

Photo by Inoue Yoshikazu

This time though, it was actually about more than this kind of Dumb Type program: a major distinguishing feature had been added in the form of a given condition, a square hole in the middle of the stage where no one could stand, a physical format with the potential to be restrictive, yet with no inherent meaning. The production process, meanwhile, involved each member of the cast assigning that hole their own interpretation, meaning, and method of use. Or at least this is how I imagine it.

That hole is thus a dangerous pit into which they may fall. A portal to another world beyond. The earth, whose surface is the only place we can make home. A black table. An insurmountable distance. A black square of symbolic meaning. Malevich’s “Black Square,” or its antecedent, a square frame in the opera Victory Over the Sun representing the structure that captures the sun. Or a “something” whose presence is easily forgotten, invisible but definitely existing.

Such meanings for the square do not converge, but continue to float about as allusions before meeting their demise. Which makes a pleasing contrast to S/N, in which the performers, moving on a wall, fall behind that wall, a hand raised as they go, with the white wall at the back of the stage converging to signify “on a borderline.”

So an hour in which a chain of loosely connected meanings unable to arrive at any central meaning, only circling it; and the intensity of superimposed video and sound, coexist, was seen by no one, yet existed, and now us watching that, from a viewpoint that could not have existed, that is no one’s.

Each time the video showed the empty audience seating at the bottom of the screen, it was 2020, the strange year of pandemic, to which we were captive.


Aoki Jun
Architect. Director, Kyoto City KYOCERA Museum of Art

*Dumb Type’s new performance 2020 was screened from October 16–18, 2020, at the South Hall, ROHM Theater Kyoto.