Movement artist Yumi Umiumare is out of the box and not easy to classify with a particular style. Trained in the post-modern Japanese dance form, Butoh, she's also a cabaret artist well-versed in pairing the bizarre and surreal with mainstream cultural conventions. Buried Teabowl - Okuni is her newest solo show. A sprawling gallery installation/performance art/dance/theatre piece, it's as varied as its creator and leads the audience on a wild journey through the multiple rooms of the Black Cat Gallery.

Different to some of Umiumare's other work, Buried Teabowl has a loose narrative thread (dramaturgy by Maude Davey). With a 40-ish large crowd gathering around, Umiumare starts by changing into a house dress and slippers in the venue's foyer and sitting down at a window-side table to have tea, Western-style, complete with cups, saucers, a tea pot and Madeleine cakes. She invites an audience member to join her. Together, they stare out into the Brunswick Street foot traffic and Umiumare ruminates on the restorative powers of Madeleines. 

Later, in a cavernous back room of the gallery, the audience sits around Umiumare who is within in a traditional Japanese dwelling, experiencing another tea ritual, very different to the earlier one. Umiumare channels Izumon no Okuni, the founder of Kabuki theatre, (in the program notes, Yumi explains that Kabuki means "bent" or "out of the ordinary"), goes through a very different and elaborate tea-taking ritual and talks about how she danced at her father's funeral, to the mortification of her older relatives.

Prior to this elaborate ceremony, proceedings dipped into video work, several costume changes, text and song. Post-tea, Umiumare continues to transform into various beings, accented with a grotesque style (Moira Finucane is credited as provocateur and her influences are discernible). Dancing stone goddess sculptures wriggle and dance in a projection behind her.

The show lends itself to direct audience engagement, which Umiumare works with confidence. Whether it is following her through the maze of gallery spaces, miming taking tea, chanting and finally circling through a video installation (by Takeshi Kondo) in a tucked-away room, the audience is always intimately close to both the performance and each other. This makes for an engaging overall experience, even when it's overwhelming to take in the many conceptual ideas and influences at play.

Created in lockdown, Umiumare had extra time to contemplate the possibilities within the multiple gallery spaces and the recent death of her father in Japan. There's a lot of dense background within Buried Teabowl - Okuni. Without dissecting everything, a clear message of returning to and embracing rituals emerges, as does a defiant streak, to move, dance, live outside of convention and cultural expectation.

This is a wild show overflowing with ideas to absorb. At 80 minutes, the experience could be stronger and potentially more effective with a stronger edit and tighter duration. Regardless, Buried Teabowl - Okuni is chock-full of thoughtful practice, wacky content and a heady mix of traditional Japanese symbolism and anarchistic performance. It's dense and visceral at the same time.

Event details

Buried Teabowl - Okuni
Yumi Umiumare

Venue: Black Cat Gallery | 420 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy VIC
Dates: 5 – 15  May 2022
Tickets:  $35 / $25 / Superiori-TEA $50 including a drink on arrival


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