Forest of Confession sees choreographer and performer Rihoko Sato combine voice, music, and movement to create an evocative piece inspired by a nocturnal forest. It takes influence from European classical traditions such as opera, however she elevates this to the avant-garde. We see Sato, “a two legged creature”, wander through the forest, at times in peace and at times in heightened agitation. Her performance explores the relationship between mankind and nature, delving into ideas of isolation and our place in a larger landscape.
The stylistic decisions in this production are bold and evocative: Sato first appears in a flurry of frills reminiscent of Alexander McQueen’s Oyster Dress, which embellishes her movement and reflects tinted light. As with her previous performance at the Coronet in Tristan and Isolde, Sato’s work stages careful interplay between light and performer, with lighting design by Saburo Teshigawara allowing her to disappear or seem as if lit from within. Particularly striking is the use of a delicate alien green that simultaneously suggests the hue of surrounding trees and tinges Sato’s skin in an uncanny manner. Her costume then changes to a sheer slip-like dress, giving increased translucence to create an ethereal visual.
Uncanniness is key to Forest of Confession: the performance is such that time feels warped, and Sato’s movements seem beyond human. Moving in a hurricane-like frenzy and then as if physically restrained, it feels as if she is conveying a deeply personal experience relating to the natural world. Use of spoken word is limited, with occasional phrases such as “I’m still here” woven in using both Japanese and English. The effect is disorienting, as if caught in someone else’s dream, and as if either seconds or weeks may have passed.
The use of sound in this production is both complementary and derealising. It is full of contradictions: English layered over Japanese; discords layered over harmony; continuity clashing with abruptness. At times a crunching sound is played, as if of cracking branches or bones, which feels rather visceral and plays well off the ambiguity between the individual’s body and the collective space of the forest. It is at times difficult to establish the intent behind features of this piece: without an overarching narrative, there is no distinct plot to follow. My understanding is that the work centres on the act of simply being, decontextualised from man-made environments or languages.
Sato is an unquestionably innovative performer, and Forest of Confession pushes the boundaries of what can be expected from contemporary dance. With questions of climate change increasingly pertinent, it seems fitting to explore the relationship between humankind and Earth’s forests. This piece is compelling thanks to its expression of intense emotion and defiance of stylistic genre, and certainly worthwhile viewing for the more adventurous theatregoer.
Lighting Designby : Saburo Teshigawara
Technical Co-ordination & Lighting Assistant by: Sergio Pessanha
Wardrobe by: Mie Kawamura
Produced by: KARAS
Forest of Confession has completed its current run.