Yuki Onna, Isabelle Schad / Aya Toraiwa ©Dieter Hartwig

She Just Wants to Play

Yuki-Onna – the Snow Woman by Isabelle Schad and Aya Toraiwa invites everyone five years of age and older to leave the spring sunshine behind and dive into the snowy landscapes of Japanese lore. The dance piece premiered on 28 April 2024 in Tanzhalle Wiesenburg and was then performed at Theater o.N. from 3 – 5 May 2024.

“Once upon a time in midwinter, when the snowflakes were falling like feathers from heaven…”  The opening line of the fairytale Snow White would also be a fitting start for Yuki-Onna – the Snow Woman. As I walk into Theater o.N. on this sunny Friday morning, I think about all the stories that I was told as a child and how they resonate today. I remember how Old Mother Frost shook snow out of pillows, how Rapunzel let down her hair, how Εἰρήνη (Eirene) was freed from the cave. This makes me all the more curious about the saga of Yuki Onna, which I knew nothing about before this dance piece.

The floor of the small stage is covered with snow-white fabric. Swaths of mist hang in the air. Aya Toraiwa stands at the front edge of the stage, peering into the curious faces of the children in the audience. “I am Yuki Onna – the Snow Woman”, a voice from the loudspeakers resonates. The dancer unclips her knee-length black hair, spreads it out on the ground, and begins rolling across the white stage. While she playfully turns from right to left, she cheerfully calls out words and syllables in English, German, and Japanese. A kindergartener sitting diagonally in front of me turns to his friends and explains: “That’s normal hair. If it were artificial hair it would fall off, off, off.” The hair remains a focus of the piece. The dancer hides behind it, swings it in large circles. Watching the strands is almost hypnotizing, as if they are not obliged to abide by the physical laws of gravity and time. As the black locks rest on the white floor, I think of roots or deep fissures in a snowy landscape. When Aya Toraiwa runs her fingers through the hair hanging in front of her face, it transforms into the teeth of a spooky monster.

While researching the myth, I was unable to determine whether Yuki Onna is a good or bad spirit. In some versions, she lures people into the cold during snowstorms and freezes them to death with her ice-cold breath or a kiss. In others, she is described as peaceful and playful or as a helpful force in cold emergencies. However, she is always lonely. She roams alone through snowy forests, playing with bouncing snowflakes. The children in the audience are unafraid of this depiction of Yuki Onna. But her loneliness is starkly felt. Again and again, she plays with her hair, swirling it through the air until it appears as if it had a will of its own. Life is breathed into the strands as they become autonomous bodies and a steadfast companion for the lonely wanderer.

English translation by Melissa Maldonado

Yuki-Onna – the Snow Woman by Isabelle Schad and Aya Toraiwa premiered on 28 April 2024 at Tanzhalle Wiesenburg and was then performed from 3 – 5 May 2024 at Theater o.N..