Heiner Goebbels' music-theatre piece Hashirigaki is a virtuosic mix of cultures, sounds, and images. It fuses excerpts from Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans with songs from the Beach Boys album, Pet Sounds; and it is staged for three female performers who are simultaneously musicians, dancers and actors. That combination suggests some kind of commentary on American culture, or a metaphor for contemporary multiculturalism. Yet, in reality, Hashirigaki is much less about social or political meaning than the creation of a compelling but elusive theatrical world. The show is full of magical musical and visual moments.
Seeing The Beach Boys' I Just Wasn't Made for These Times sung in European and Japanese accents, played by a theremin and a collection of bells, and accompanied by the original backing track, is a thrilling and weird experience. Yet this unexpected meeting of cultures emerges completely naturally within the context of the rest of the 75-minute show. In one sequence, the three performers, Charlotte Engelkes, Marie Goyette, and Yumiko Tanaka, transform a suite of Japanese and western instruments into a miniature cardboard city: an organ becomes a skyscraper, and Tanaka's costume turns her into a tower block.
After a passage of ritualised violence, in which Tanaka furiously beats a metal disc, the action morphs seamlessly into a version of another Beach Boys track, Don't Talk. Every aspect of the production inhabits the same allusive universe: from Stein's repetitive texts to Florence von Gerkan's suggestive costumes, which transform the performers into everything from giant, luminous eggs to boiler-suited workers. The theatrical range encompassed by Engelkes, Goyette, and Tanaka is stunning. They make Stein's texts sound genial and conversational, their actions and movements are brilliantly coordinated, and Tanaka's mastery of a variety of Japanese instruments is spellbinding.
From all of this diversity, Goebbels creates an inexplicable but coherent theatrical grammar, one that includes humour and emotion. In one section, Engelkes and Goyette move in an undulating wave across the apron of the stage, as they recite a text that muses on the niceties of language and pronunciation. After a long silence, a shout of Mexico! in a Spanish accent is bizarrely, but genuinely, funny. Their version of Caroline No is strange and moving, as they accompany their vocals with a delicate embellishment of finger cymbals and exotic percussion.
But the most powerful sounds in Hashirigaki are those of the theremin: noises of this ethereal, electronic instrument encapsulate the mysterious world of the whole show.
The Guardian (GB), 21 November 2002