It is a highly choreographed, unabashed spectacle, a contribution to the world of contemporary performance art from a most unexpected place: ikebana, the Japanese tradition of flower arranging.
Backed with Broadway lighting and a large supporting cast, ikebana master Akane Teshigahara is promising to turn a once-intimate art into an onstage extravaganza titled “Iemoto Ikebana Live” on April 27, transforming the stage of the Aratani/Japan America Theatre in Los Angeles into the world’s largest and most spectacular vase.
For Teshigahara — the iemoto, or head master, of the Modernist Sogetsu discipline of ikebana — pushing the boundaries of flower arranging is in her family roots. Her father, the late Hiroshi Teshigahara, nominated for an Oscar in 1966 for directing “Woman in the Dunes,” also was head of the Sogetsu School. He was lauded in Japan for ikebana installations, often realized on a giant scale. His 1997 installation at the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, “Maitake,” consisted of long, rolling waves of bamboo that resembled a waterfall. The director further used his prowess with ikebana to mount sets composed entirely of flower and plant material for operas such as “Turandot.”
For her part, Teshigahara decided to turn the arrangement process into an art unto itself.
“My father performed demonstrations onstage, but he didn't put much emphasis on how to show it,” she said. “ ‘Ikebana Live’ uses the effects of lighting and music so that the audience can enjoy the actual production process.”
The show starts slyly with table arrangements on a modest scale, in keeping with the mainly domestic practice of ikebana. But by the end of the performance, Teshigahara will have filled even the deepest parts of the stage with sculptural and artistic forms made of flowers, branches, mosses and other natural offerings.
“I first performed ‘Ikebana Live’ in Osaka in 2008,” she said. “In Japan, people normally believe that ikebana is for decorating an alcove or a table, so the audience was greatly surprised by the scale. Still, they came away with a sense of being alive, I think, thanks to the vitality that comes from how the plants are being presented.”
The show is significant because Teshigahara has become “a star performer” in the world of ikebana, said Karin Higa, formerly senior curator of art at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.
“That the head of this school is a woman is also remarkable, given this is a very tradition-bound art with many complex rules,” Higa said. “This iemoto has not been held back by its tradition, and by breaking into performance art, she has made ikebana innovative again.”
Before the show, Teshigahara plans to scour as many gardens and nurseries in Southern California for materials as she can. Her prized resource remains the Los Angeles Flower District, the wholesale markets downtown.
Although the script is a well-guarded secret, the iemoto revealed that one scene consists of a large-scale bamboo presentation. Bamboo will be carried and held on stage by 16 members of the Los Angeles branch of the Sogetsu School.
Teshigahara’s appearance in Los Angeles is already making waves.
“The iemoto is changing the scale of how we practice. It is such a big jump for ikebana,” said Haruko Takeichi, director of the Sogetsu School in Los Angeles. “For us, it is quite scary.”
What: "Iemoto Ikebana Live," a stage performance that is the highlight of a five-day seminar for the North America branch of the Sogetsu School of ikebana. The show has been called Japan’s Super Bowl of flower arranging and is being held in the U.S. for the first time.
Where: Aratani/Japan America Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles.
When: 2 p.m. April 27
Tickets: $60, bought online