Mystical Abyss is a new story incorporating characters from ancient Japanese and Iroquois mythologies. In the production itself, this story is told largely through dance and animation, with segments of (often hilarious) narration delivered by Lluis Valls.
The following synopsis will also appear in the program notes, with sketches by costume designer Risa Lenore Dye.
Act I Ten/Heaven-Spirit
First we meet the Turtle. He tells us that in the beginning, there was no earth. The turtle and other sea creatures lived in the ocean. Birds lived in the space below the clouds. Above the clouds was a sky world illuminated not by the sun, which did not yet exist, but by a great tree. In this heavenly domain lived the sky people, one of whom was Sky Woman.
The Turtle begins to circle the stage, and story begins.
Sky Woman is married to a powerful chief in the sky country. She is pregnant. One day her husband has a dream. In the dream he creates an abyss in the sky country, and into the abyss he pushes his wife, who plunges through the clouds, then through the darkness, toward the sea.
Fire Dragon appears, dressed in white. He is a beneficent being who lives in the abyss. He gives Sky Woman seeds, which she will need in the world below, then leads her to the dark spirit world of Yominokuni.
As they travel, Fire Dragon tells Sky Woman the story of Izanami, whom we see revealed as a beautiful goddess, pregnant and dancing (see photo above).
Izanami and her husband Izanagi are the gods who, in Japanese mythology, created the land. After marrying, they gave birth to many gods representing natural phenomena. The last of these, the god of fire, scorched Izanami, causing her to pass from the world of the living to Yominokuni.
Sky Woman and Fire Dragon observe a reenactment of the traditional story concerning Izanami and Izanagi. Izanagi is stricken with grief after the death of his wife and journeys to the netherworld to try to retrieve her, but he is too late. She has already eaten some soup in that world and is therefore unable to return. Still, she asks Izanagi to wait and, above all, not to try to gaze upon her. Instead–in his eagerness!–he lights a torch and sees her in a state of decomposition. In terror he runs away, while his angry wife pursues him, attended by a troupe of female demons.
Claiming humiliation, she threatens to retaliate by killing one thousand people a day. He replies that then he will bring one thousand five hundred people per day to life. This exchange sanctifies life and death as the interplay between these two gods.
Unlike Izanagi, Sky Woman sees Izanami as beautiful. She soothes the goddess by combing her hair with a magical comb.
Restored to calm, Izanami creates the Sun goddess Amaterasu, the Moon goddess Tsukuyomi, and the Storm god Susanoo from the darkness.
Act II Chi/Earth
After leaving Yominokuni, Sky Woman continues to fall toward the sea.
Birds and water animals see her falling and know she needs a solid place to land. Fish hawks try to carry her, but eventually they tire. Finally an otter brings up some mud from the sea. Sky Woman spreads the mud on the back of a giant turtle, where it becomes the land.
Sky Woman gives birth to a daughter.
Amaterasu (the Sun) appears. She is one of the children Izanami bore after being comforted by Sky Woman.
Susanoo (the Storm) appears next. He is another one of the children Izanami bore. He is very unruly. He destroys everything on earth, killing Sky Woman. But Sky Woman’s daughter is saved.
Amaterasu is shocked by her brother’s acts of destruction and retreats into a cave, causing all the earth and the heavens to fall into darkness.
Act III Jin/Humanity
Susanoo’s destruction and Amaterasu’s grief are recapitulated.
Everyone is depressed in a world without sunlight. People, animals, and plants come together to decide how to lure Amaterasu out of hiding. The daughter of a medicine man says she has the solution. She dances an ecstatic (slightly risqué) dance.
The dance makes everyone happy. Everyone in the community laughs and joins in the fun.
Hearing the noise, Amaterasu is curious and comes out of her cave. The light returns!
Amaterasu dances, moving toward the mound where Sky Woman was buried and scattered her seeds. There a small tree is revealed, a white pine, the Tree of Peace. All those assembled call out the word for “peace” in their own ancestral languages.
The Turtle returns to circle the stage, and the sacred cycle of light and darkness continues like the cycle of the moon.