World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


First Voice: Mark Izu and Brenda Wong Aoki

Dance Origin: Japan/United States
Kyōgen Theater, Commedia dell’Arte, Jazz, Japanese Court Music
Master Storyteller/Narrator/Co-writer
Brenda Wong Aoki
Musical Director/Original Compositions:
Mark Izu 
First Appearance in SF EDF: 2009

The generous simplicity of Wong’s style originates in the Japanese noh-kyōgen tradition, performed since the 14th century. Noh evolved from popular, folk, and aristocratic art forms into a formal and stylized form of dance/music/theater. Actors, all male, use masks, few props, and simple sets; and the musicians play onstage. Noh plays have an immediacy, a quality reflecting the traditional Japanese aesthetic of transience. As musicians, dancers, and actors interact, tempos change and evolve, and each discipline is given full voice. Kyōgen developed alongside noh, with humorous skits to break the solemnity. Kyōgen actors use slapstick and satire, exaggerated movements, and dialogue, so the action is easy to understand. 

Performer/co-writer Brenda Wong Aoki is fully versed in traditional noh and kyōgen theatrical traditions, as well as contemporary storytelling and movement. Musical Director Mark Izu is a contemporary jazz composer who has studied and performed gagaku for almost twenty years. Izu is also the 2008 recipient of the Northern California Regional EMMY® Award for Outstanding Musical Composition/Arrangement. Highly acclaimed artists since 1979, the duo formed First Voice in 1995: to create, develop, and present the stories and music of people living between worlds. Critical to this mission is “personal experience” or “voice” as essential to authentic contemporary global culture.


Return of the Sun
Brenda Wong Aoki
Original Compositions:

Mark Izu

First Voice – Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu – combine Japanese noh and kyōgen theater, Commedia dell’arte, modern dance, jazz, and Japanese court music to weave this weekend’s presentation – the Japanese tale of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu. While on a study fellowship in Japan, Mark and Brenda became fascinated with a recent underwater discovery of pyramids off the coast of Okinawa. Some people believe the structures are the remains of the world’s oldest civilization, the lost continent of Mu. Also called The Land of the Sun, Mu has been described as a highly advanced civilization that predates ancient Egypt, with colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, all with sun deities and pyramids. Brenda Wong Aoki believes that the legend of Amaterasu may be a story passed down from Mu. On today’s stage, in Wong Aoki’s capable hands, this ancient, archetypal tale of a dark world moving into the light becomes a surprisingly timely message, one of hope and renewal in today’s changing world.

Izu’s original score uses gagaku – the world’s oldest continuously practiced orchestral musical tradition, developed over a thousand years ago with roots in China, Japan, Korea, India, and Persia. This musical form was once only performed before those known as “Descendants of the Sun” – the emperors of Japan. Izu’s score includes improvisation for a jazz trio, Peruvian cajón, Chinese sheng (playing a haunting version of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman), acoustic contra bass, six-string electric bass, and a ritual Tarahumara rain drum. The waltz at the end of the program is an original composition.

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