Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs



Greg Beyer
Greg Beyer

Akemi Naito
Akemi Naito

Midori Kanazawa
Midori Kanazawa

Kristine Marx
Kristine Marx



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News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

September 9, 2009

Diverse group of performers to create
‘Woman in the Dunes’ for NIU stage

DeKalb, Ill. — Despite the word “Woman” in the title, the story is told from the perspective of a man.

Well, the original story bore that viewpoint, at least.

But the tale of a man who escapes his bland existence only to find himself trapped by the alternative will enjoy a decidedly female outlook when it’s reinterpreted at 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, and Monday, Sept. 21, on the stage of the Music Building’s Recital Hall at Northern Illinois University.

Four artists, including Greg Beyer, assistant professor of percussion studies in the School of Music, will present “Woman of the Dunes” as the culmination of a week-long guest artist series and artistic collaboration that revolves around Japanese composer Akemi Naito’s new – and musical – look at the 1960s novel and movie from her homeland.

Midori Kanazawa, a celebrated Japanese actress active in television and film, will play the role of the woman in the dunes. Kristine Marx, a New York City-based video artist, has created a series of video montages that coincide “perfectly” with the music and acting.

Free tickets are required for the two performances; call (815) 753-1546 to reserve seats. The production contains mature themes.

“The opportunity to do this project came to me through the composer, Akemi Naito,” Beyer said. “I met her in New York as a freelance performer some 10 years ago, and last summer, playing a concert in New York City at the Juilliard School, she approached me afterward and said, ‘Hey, I have a project I think you’d be perfect for.’ ”

Beyer agreed.

“It turned out to be an incredible opportunity to work with a talented composer – that’s something I’m used to doing as a new music musician – but to also work with a really fantastic actress from Japan, to work in a theater context and to work with a video artist,” he said. “It’s truly a multimedia event.”

Kobo Abe’s novel tells of a man from Tokyo who tires of his humdrum life in the big city and decides to find escape on the coast.

A side trip to a nearby village becomes his unexpected and unwanted final destination; the villagers keep him there against his will by lowering him into the deep pit of sand where the titular woman lives.

Through the story, Abe examines the endless tensions between men and women and between individuals and societies as well as questions of happiness and how it is achieved.

“What the sand turns out to represent has various existential overtones to it. The sand, as it keeps pouring in daily and threatens the existence of this community, represents the banality of everyday life. All of the things we do in daily routine can become heavy,” Beyer said. “The composer and I were looking for instruments that would evoke sand and the sound world of the Japanese seaside.”

Beyer plays the role of the man, but because the story is turned on its head, he is vocally mute. His communication with the woman is through “musical gestures” and “subtle but meaningful ways of holding the body.”

Meanwhile, Kanazawa spends much of the performance in a mask – a nod to the ancient Noh form of Japanese theater. Traditionally, men wore masks to conceal their faces as they played female parts. In Naito’s modern take, where the woman faces difficult decisions, the mask helps to explore an ugly situation in her life and to level a powerful statement about individuality.

The four artists participated in intense collaborations and rehearsals during the months leading up to the production’s May 4, 2009, debut at the Flea Theater in New York City.

Now the “Woman in the Dunes” comes to NIU during a year of examining concepts of globalism and cultural identity through the arts.

Related events include:

  • A lecture by Helen Nagata, assistant professor of art history at NIU, on “Using Tradition Now: Aspects of Noh Theatre in Modern Practice,” is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15. Nagata also will make comments at the performances.
  • Naito will speak on musical composition at 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18.
  • A screening of the film, “Woman in the Dunes,” will begin at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18.
  • Kanazawa will conduct a theater workshop at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 19. Students in professor Stanton Davis’ theater classes will attend. 
  • Marx will lecture on video art at 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21. Students in professor Kurt Schultz’s time arts classes will attend.
  • Both performances of “Woman in the Dunes” will be preceded by a percussion trio (Beyer and his two graduate students, Will Cooley and Mat Solace) performing “Rain Tree” by Japanese composer Toro Takemitsu. John Novak, associate professor of music theory at NIU, will play Naito’s accordion solo, “Sanctuary.”

“People are going to walk away having experienced a really beautiful production,” Beyer said. “The music is gorgeous, the videoscapes are incredible and the acting is professional. It’s an amazing combination of the arts.”

For more information, contact Beyer at (815) 753-7981 or via e-mail at gbeyer@niu.edu.

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