The North American Sogetsu Seminar is like the Olympics of flower arranging (though, of course, only for North America). Held once every four years in a different North American city, the five day seminar on the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging known as ikebana (ike = living, bana = flowers) arrives in Los Angeles for the first time this weekend with a host of workshops, lectures and receptions expected to attract participants from all over the world.
The jewel in the crown for enthusiasts is the first live theatrical performance of ikebana to be given in the United States. Titled Iemoto Ikebana Live and held on Saturday at the Aratani Japan America Theater downtown, this event features Akane Teshigahara, the world renowned Iemoto (or headmaster) of the prestigious Sogetsu School of Ikebana in Tokyo, as she creates a spectacular stage-size flower arrangement in a carefully choreographed and orchestrated demonstration of the art set to music. (Unfortunately, it's sold out).
While ikebana typically celebrates minimalist beauty, there is certainly nothing minimalist about the scale of this particular live event. Ten pupils and paid artists will assist Teshigahara on stage, while another 20 local teachers and students will help out behind the scenes in the creation of the work.
"I can't divulge too much about the performance, but I can say it will involve hundreds of pieces of bamboo and leaves and hundreds of fresh flowers," said local ikebana student Ravi GuneWardena, an architect and partner in the Silver Lake architecture firm EscherGuneWardena, who is helping to organize the event.
No one knows which varieties of flower will be featured in the performance: that will depend on what Teshigahara selects when she visits the Los Angeles Flower Market downtown prior to the show.
GuneWardena, who has studied ikebana for the last five years, explained the difference between the Japanese art and the Western concept of flower arranging.
"In Western flower arranging the main flower is put in the vase first and then the space between is filled in with more flowers or leaves," he says. "In contrast, Japanese flower arranging tends to be fairly sparse. It's about experiencing the individuality of each stem. In ikebana, a single flower, branch and leaf is considered sufficient for an arrangement. The idea is to examine the space between, to look at line and proportion."
This minimalist approach to flower arranging means that practitioners of ikebana often start with a leafless branch to establish the line and -- in direct contrast with Western technique -- the flower becomes the last element to be added.
"I often liken it to music, playing jazz or doing Bach improvisations," Sri-Lankan-born GuneWardena said of practicing ikebana. "You have to learn your basics and practice the scales and master the rules but then you have to be able to break them and improvise on the spot."