"The First Light"
A New Musical About War and the Nuclear Age

Artwork by James Jereb

"Takashi!", the white light called. "Don't be afraid. It is time to leave." I did not want to leave my father, but in a blink of an eye I was being carried by a white crane above Hiroshima. I saw seasons turn from spring to summer to fall over our seven hills and seven rivers. When winter came, everything was dead. Nothing moved; not a single sound.

Suddenly a flash of all consuming light, followed by a deafening sound as if all things had been sucked up into huge roar. An immense ball of fire flew across the sky wrapping around the white crane. I held onto its legs, but I was only eight years old and it slipped away. Alone, sitting on a boulder, I cried and cried. Then a swirling of monarch butterflies covered the sky. In the lead was a beautiful white butterfly. "Takashi! Always remember to stay true to yourself", came the same voice as the crane, now a butterfly. As it fluttered before me, music as I have never heard before filled my body.
Then I woke up. The next day, the bomb . . .

-based on the true vision of Takashi Tanemori, atom bomb survivor.

THE FIRST LIGHT is a theatrical work-in-progress that originally emerged out of "The First Light Pilgrimage for a Nuclear Free Planet" undertaken by San Francisco-based performing artists with Takashi Tanemori in the summer of 1999. Using metaphor, music, dance, drama, ritual, storytelling, and vintage film footage, it tells the story of the entire nuclear era, from its beginnings in the 1940's until now, using a three-tiered approach - the personal, the historical, and the mythical. In this way it explores the archetypal tensions between darkness and light, destruction and creation, death and rebirth, and challenges the political Juggernaut that still today propels us towards nuclear holocaust.

The personal level of THE FIRST LIGHT focuses on the life story of Takashi Tanemori, a Hibakusha, or Hiroshima survivor, who was eight years old when the bomb was dropped on his hometown and most of his family was killed. Takashi's treacherous and emotional journey from Japan to America and back, from youth to old age, from vengeful hate to forgiveness, and his eventual emergence as a peacemaker, becomes the thread around which the historical characters and events of the nuclear era are woven.

Simultaneously, mythical characters are juxtaposed against the historical to illustrate the archetypal nature of the nuclear drama. Thus, we open the show with a riveting dialogue between Dr. Frankenstien and Albert Einstien, both scientists whose well-intentioned experiments go dangerously out of control. Soon thereafter we meet the Hopi underworld diety Panayoikyasi, whose discovery by archaeolgists as a stone effigy buried beneath the Arizona sands parallels the first test of a nuclear bomb, at the Trinity site in neighboring New Mexico. Thereafter the Hindu trident-bearing Lord Shiva appears to dance the eternal dance of destruction, and again he dances with every subsequent nuclear experiment, from the South Pacific to North Africa to Kazakhstan to Nevada to the deserts of India and Pakistan. Meanwhile Panayoikyasi keeps raising his mighty fist with nuclear disasters like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and the Shinto Sun Goddess Amaterasu increasingly removes her life-giving light from the world, ultimately taking shelter in a cave. There she encounters Count Dracula, another cave dweller, whose blood-draining vampirism parallels the global parasitism of the military-industrial complex. Not until the end of the show is Amaterasu finally lured from her cave of hopelessness by the raucous drumming and dancing of desperate living beings on Earth. Thus she overcomes the reign of her storm god brother Susano-wo, and light returns to the world.

To date only a few songs and dramatic sketches have been created for THE FIRST LIGHT. Composer Jim Berenholtz has written music for a dance sequence entitled "Bringers of the Storm", as well as the songs "One Blade of Grass", "Father", and "Hearts of Ice". Storytellers Nancy Wang and Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo (together known as Eth-Noh-Tec) have developed an already acclaimed short dramatic work entitled "Takashi's Dream". Mr. Tanemori has also written extensively about his lifestory in a poetic/literary work entitled "The Vision of the Crane and the Butterfly". The next step is to flesh out the storyline of the musical and develop it into a book, and then to compose the rest of the songs. THE FIRST LIGHT artists seek other fellow artists to share in bringing this theatrical vision to life, as well as directors and producers to bring shape and financing to the project. Our intention is to put this musical on the American and Japanese stage, and ultimately on the world stage where the hotly debated issues of our times are addressed.

 

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composer@jimberenholtz.com