Six members of Mochi Mochi and I took a road-trip to San Francisco to see the great Kagami Kai mochi-pounding and taiko ensemble at the Asian Art Museum. It was awesome! The hall was totally packed so we stood at the back and struggled to see, but that allowed for better observation of the audience and surroundings.
The most shocking thing is how easy Kagami Kai makes mochi-making appear. We work so hard, especially in the beginning "koneri" section, pounding and sweating for about 6 minutes. But Kagami Kai just lightly pounds for a few minutes and presto, well-made mochi! Perhaps it's just numbers... we have 4 people doing koneri while they have 10... but I suspect it's technique. The group has been making mochi for almost 30 years. Takatani-san is their main kaeshi (the person who tends to the rice) and he's efficient and stylish.
Kagami Kai performance from 2015
While I loved the show, I was also relieved to feel like Mochi Mochi is heading in its own, original direction. Kagami Kai had many "performative" moments, when pounders do a flourish or fake-pound. I like that Mochi Mochi is trying to make the work itself the performance. Seeing Kagami Kai made me realize this is our strength, and we should improve it by, for example, making music as we do the marumochi at the end. The work itself should be musical.
An extreme example of the kind of "performative" art I'm trying to avoid was the collaboration with calligrapher Shioh Kato that opened the show with Kagami Kai's taiko players. The calligrapher entered with a dramatic slow walk and took a bow with his brush. He dramatically dipped the brush in ink and proceeded to shout and grunt and he drew. The whole thing was mired in ceremony and mystery. I hated it. Rather than producing something of recognizable beauty, or displaying a clear and inspiring technique --- something to bridge the gap between the audience and the performer -- in order to succeed this calligraphy demanded distance and ignorance from the audience. It asked to be viewed across a cultural barrier and appreciated as "traditional", "Japanese", etc. This opening to the show drove me crazy, but it made everything Kagami Kai did after that feel much better.
Calligrapher from 2018 show