The Blue Bird

Witness Relocation (, whom Performing Arts Journal dubbed “a dance-theater anarchist’s utopia,” will present the American premiere of “The Blue Bird” by Mikuni Yanaihara, translated by Aya Ogawa and Kameron Steele, January 7 to 24, 2009 at at Clemente Soto Velez (CSV), 107 Suffolk Street, Manhattan. The play, adapted by Artistic Director Dan Safer into Witness Relocation’s rough-and-tumble style of physical theater, was workshopped in the 2007 CUNY Prelude Festival/Spotlight Japan. It will now receive a full production as part of “Spotlight Japan,” a festival of New Japanese Plays which is being presented in conjunction with the CUNY Graduate Center, with support from The Japan Foundation NY.

Witness Relocation’s work normally blurs and ignores the lines between dance and theater, and includes aspects of installation art, live video, task-based performance, timed activities, competitions and improvisation of all sorts (movement, dramatic, and philosophical). The source of this year’s project is an enigma play by Japanese choreographer Mikuni Yanaihar about scientists who are tying to find the last bluebird. With industrialization having taken over nature and people having stopped looking at the sky, Japanese and American scientists in an Animal & Plant Science Research Center attempt to revive frail and extinct species of animals and insects. With good intentions come disasters, and a gordion knot of climatic repercussions and chemical side effects ensues.

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Workshop presentation of The Blue Bird at in the 2007 CUNY Prelude Festival/Spotlight Japan. Photo by Julien Jourdes.

Safer notes that author Mikuni Yanaihar is a choreographer and that “The Blue Bird” was her first play. This puts her, artistically, in a kindred space with Safer, since both artists think physically and visually. The piece will be staged with dancing throughout, in the form of full-out dance numbers and choreographed scenes. Music will be taken from various sources, including Japanese pop songs. The overall appearance will be “pretty ghetto looking.” The characters include eight scientists and some objects of their study: a bear, a buttterfly, a ladybug, a beaver and a butterfly.

It will be Witness Relocation’s third show based on animal metaphors, following “Vicious Dogs on Premises” (2008) and “Dancing vs. The Rat Experiment” (2006). The company began in 2000, investigating themes from classics and Asian theater forms. In its present phase, biological issues have inspired a succession of free-associative physical theater works that seem to more reflect on “the animal within.” Themes of violence and dominance among people engender frolicsome, genre-busting performances containing dance, theater games and postmodern adaptations of iconic styles from the theatrical avant-garde.

“The Blue Bird” will be performed by Sean Donovan, Randolph Curtis Rand, Laine Retmer, Mike Mikos, Aubrey Chamberlin, Abigail Browde, Orion Taraban, Joe Baker, Damaris Webb, Randy Thompson, Sam Pinkleton, and Wil Petre. Set and lights are designed by Jay Ryan. Sound design is by Ryan Maeker. Costume design is by Laura Berlin Stinger. Video and Projection Design are by Kaz Phillips.

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Workshop presentation of The Blue Bird at in the 2007 CUNY Prelude Festival/Spotlight Japan. The piece, performed in Witness Relocation’s roughand-tumble style of physical theater, will receive a full production from January 7 to 24, 2009 at Clemente Soto Velez(CSV), Manhattan. Photo by Julien Jourdes.

Mikuni Yanaihara (playwright) is a choreographer and director of Nibroll (, a company she created in 1997. Since high school, when she began to dance, Yanaihara has won numerous awards for her work, including the NHK Award at a national high school dance competition. After graduating from university with a degree in dance, Yanaihara turned her sights on film and enrolled in film school. She has taken Nibroll to a range of festivals including the Oregon Dance Festival, the San Francisco Butoh Festival, and the Berlin Fusion Festival.


Witness Relocation ( was formed in 2000 and has performed at The Ontological, La MaMa, Danspace Project/St. Mark’s Church, The Ohio Theater/Soho Think Tank (in the Koltes NY Festival and the award winning Ice Factory Festival), The Revolutions International Theater Festival (NM), Dixon Place, NYU and Patravadi Theatre, Bangkok. Past projects between members of Witness Relocation include productions at Dance Theater Workshop, the Currican Theater, and Baltimore Theater Project.

From 2004-06, Witness Relocation engaged in an ongoing collaboration and residency with the renowned Patravadi Theatre of Bangkok, Thailand. From a rigorous exchange of methodologies, ideas and practices came a radical shift in direction for Safer’s troupe. The collision and collusion of different artistic as well as cultural perspectives yielded a unique interdisciplinary performance style that now combines Eastern and Western techniques; dance, theater and installation art.

Vicious Dogs on Premesis, presented in 2008 at Ontological Theater. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Last spring, the company unveiled its “Vicious Dogs on Premises” at Ontological Theater, in association with the Ontological-Hysteric Incubator. Drawing on an animal metaphor, the piece riffed on the concept of Choice Overload. Five performers followed five separate lists of instructions, tasks, and options in a joyously blinding matrix of dances and improvisations guided by an offstage Daniel Safer, who presided over the show with a buzzer and a stopwatch. Time Out (Helen Shaw) labeled it “avant-vaudeville, conducted with brio and a cheery disregard for the fourth wall.” Shaw reported that “Everyone has a grand time (including the absurdly charming performers)” and that the troupe “feels so comfortable with radical techniques–borrowed from icons such as the Wooster Group and John Cage–that they can redirect them into pure frolic. It’s liberating and silly, and their aesthetic forebears might even find it an awfully fun reunion.”

Dancing vs. The Rat Experiment
Dancing vs. The Rat Experiment, choreographed by Dan Safer, at La MaMa E.T.C. in October, 2006. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Kelina Gotman wrote in Performing Arts Journal, “Witness Relocation’s ‘Dancing vs. The Rat Experiment’ was like going to your first punk rock concert in the 1980s. It was raw, it was racy. If it was hard to follow at times, it was too lively for that to matter. The company has been compared to Pina Bausch, Richard Foreman, and the Wooster Group, but Witness Relocation’s mobilization of the element of uncertainty, the sheer physical vitality of the performers, and the mixture of genres puts them more in line with the Andrei Serban, Jan Fabre, Frank Castorf, and David Bowie.”

Hilton Als wrote in The New Yorker, “Ellen Stewart of La MaMa has helped launch the careers of Sam Shepard, Tom O’Horgan, Andrei Serban, and Candy Darling. It is a pleasure to add a new company – Witness Relocation – to Stewart’s roll call of magnificent acts. The company, under the supervision of the director and choreographer Dan Safer, consists of about a dozen actor-dancers, who also contribute to the creation of each piece. Witness Relocation’s current show is an hour-long work bursting with ideas, both visual and aural… While influences are clear – the genre-mixing works of Pina Bausch, Richard Foreman, and the Wooster Group are definitely in evidence – there is plenty of originality here, too, as well as youth, joy, vulgarity, and an ironic distance from the media saturated world that inspired the show.”

Dan Safer (Artistic Director) originally hails from New Jersey and has helmed every Witness Relocation show. His work has been presented at La MaMa, Dance Theater Workshop (four consecutive seasons), Patravadi Theatre (Bangkok), Theater Krudttonden (Denmark), the 2007 CUNY Prelude Festival, Dixon Place and Danspace Project. He has choreographed operas, rock videos and fashion shows and has written a seven episode serial play with Pulitzer winner David Lindsay-Abaire. He performed with Ridge Theater, Jane Comfort, John Moran, Mabou Mines, the Blacklips Performance Cult, Hong Kong choreographer Dick Wong and others. He founded and directed the Bangkok Performance Boot Camp. Safer is faculty at NYU and teaches workshops across the US and Internationally. He received a 2007-9 Six Points Fellowship (Performance) from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and won two NY Innovative Theater Awards last year. He used to be a go-go dancer and once choreographed the Queen of Thailand’s Birthday Party.


Witness Relocation will perform a show inspired by the Passover Seder at La MaMa E.T.C. from March 19-29, 2009. In April, 2009, the company will travel to Lyons, France for a month-long residence La Subsistance. There, the company will perform “Vicious Dogs on Premises” and develop a new piece. In June and July, 2009, the company will tour Poland and Russia in “Vicious Dogs on Premises.” In 2010, the company will perform a new play by Charles L. Mee, “Heaven on Earth,” at PS122.

“The Blue Bird” will be performed January 7 to 24, 2009 at Clemente Soto Velez (CSV), 107 Suffolk Street, NYC (between Rivington and Delancey). In the first week, “The Blue Bird” will play Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm. In subsequent weeks, the schedule will be Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $18 and $12 for students. The box office number is (212) 868-4444 . Online ticketing is available at The company’s website is

Jonathan Slaff
Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.