Tonight was the opening of the Japan Dance Now triple bill at the Dance Center and, while I can’t say how representative it is of Japanese contemporary dance in general, it certainly gives the impression that the work coming out of there continues to be wholly disinterested in emulating trends. That’s a good thing. The three companies that presented–BABY-Q, Nibroll, and Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance Club–were thrillingly different from one another and the pieces they brought (all excerpted from longer works) benefitted from each others’ company. They were also shown in an intelligent order–programmed any other way the evening could have been, if not a disaster, at least very, very difficult.
The pieces were difficult overall, in fact, each making a different set of equally aggressive demands on the sold-out house. The solo piece E/G – EGO GEOMETRIA that BABY-Q opened the program with was noisy, loud, and heavy on strobed lighting effects. It was also the evening’s strongest work. The solo Yoko Higashino created and performed found her in a constantly-shifting space defined by keenly-attuned combinations of sound patterns (composed live by Toshio Kajiwara, upstage left in the dark behind a long table and a terrifying number of fat cables) and projection effects (run by Yohei Saito AKA Rokapenis, which name may even be cooler than Erwin Wurm’s). Her mechanized, extraordinarily detailed journey through these realms seemed dictated largely by the setup’s dictates to her, not unlike Gideon Obarzanek’s similarly tech-heavy solo work Glow. Higashino begins power-walking with short strides between downpulls, stopping stock-still in the center of each to execute a series of calmly crystalline gestures like an assembly robot building a supercomputer. But the score’s manic mood shifts quickly introduce new atmospheres, pulling Higashino into all manner of geometric situations and textural environments. There’s a great use of and inventiveness with her feet in particular, and she frequently would zip through a mind-bogglingly difficult bit of phrase or floorwork with such efficiency and lack of ceremony that, in the midst of all the flashing and static and abrasiveness, induced in me a Zen placidity as I sat in awe of her physical ability and command of technique. A few moments brought her close to a cleverly-hidden infrared live feed camera (the piece, strobes notwithstanding, was very dark and what little light was onstage was handled with the seriousness of a medieval prisoner’s last two crumbs of bread), her white-eyed green image blown fisheye all over the rear scrim or floor or ceiling. Projections, solely in the dim green palette of the camera’s feeds, ran simultaneously in four or five places at once–Rokapenis’ ability to delinate space so easily, and to paint Higashino with a looping texture that stood in vivid contrast to those (often traveling) of the floor and drop lent the entire work a dizzingly frenetic organization, where the technical chops and top-shelf gadgetry combined to explosive effect. It ends with a bit of emotion, but only so in contrast to the intellectual exercise that precedes it. It did feel narrative, though, in a way hard to describe. An absolutely intriguing bit of dance–I’d love to see the rest of this 2007 piece.
Japan Dance Now’s middle child was the sextet Nibroll, who brought what if anything you might call a “classic” contemporary Japanese dance piece. A drop of projections ran madcap throughout the entire piece, morphing slowly from floating 8-bit game text and bullets over picturebook skies and a running paper man to a vast cityscape–unmistakably Tokyo–written in code and blindingly white, with cartoon passenger jets zooming overhead. The piece, Coffee, moves along well enough, and hits a bunch of adorable notes with giggles, screams, face slaps and shenanigans, but it all seems like a bit of a self-conscious expression of a spirit that refuses to be tamed in the most cliché of ways. Nibroll bills itself as an “art director’s collective consisting of a group of creative professionals in the fields of film, music, lighting and garment design” that’s been active since 1997, which sort of explains why the piece feels exactly like some creatives’ office party in Stockholm where someone spiked the punch with acid AND speed. It’s fun, and was my boyfriend’s favorite of the night. There was a lot of running around and the six dancers (Mikuni Yanaihara, Ayako Fukushima, Anna Kuroda, Mariko Kasuya, Hiroyuki Seki and Kohei Takahashi) certainly sell the experience, throwing themselves literally at the floor and each other as though they’ll die if we aren’t entertained. Maybe I just wanted them to tell me how they feel. It does close with a terrific set of images, of a cat lapping at a bowl as karaoke subtitles of a kiddie song’s lyrics scroll by, crudely drawn and misspelled, about coffee, acceptance, and love. The cat appears on a nesting series of tube televisions, a hall of mirrors populated solely by LOLcats and arch cuteness. The lifestyle Nibroll sells is undeniably appealing, and, in a cultural environment like Tokyo’s, a probable goldmine. They’re certainly enjoying themselves–they have a spirit easy to catch, even if it is hard to pin down.
Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance Club, who collaborated earlier this week with our Black Monks of the Mississippi, are five women directed by Akadama (AKA Iku Otani, founder of Hoppo Buto-ha and executive producer of the nonprofit DANCE BOX) in a series of glacial vignettes, an excerpt from The End of Water. The maybe half-dozen of them, delineated clearly musically and with lengthy, silent blackouts, worked with varying degrees of success. The most lovely was a walking diagonal by one dancer in full vintage geisha attire and parasol, who took a good seven minutes to cross the Dance Center stage, pausing occasionally to look (glacially) over her shoulder, or cast her eyes upward at the sporadic passing overhead of WWII fighters (sound clips played ingeniously out of speakers on the ceiling of the house). The light was golden and rich, painting her outrageous and beautiful costume in tones normally reserved for Ziyi Zhang films. A motif of symmetry hampered my ability to stick with the challenge of such minimal motion–the dancers were organized in an orthogonal square around center-center, or a straight line, or a shallow chevron across center. The militaristic spatial organization (especially after the thoroughly modern geometries of BABY-Q) handicapped the gorgeous simplicity of what Otani creates in material, which is movement of incredible purity, the minuscule core of what was an enormous apple enjoyed to the last. The dancers live every moment, their commitment to the ceremony of performance unshakable (their company bow was perhaps the most serious I’ve ever seen), and there are a few of those magical moments when you realize someone once kneeling is now standing, and you have no recollection of the transition. There was the lightest possible touch with the seasoning of speed, infinitisemal flashes of mercury chasing itself, but they too were gone without a trace, and you were left wondering if they’d even happened at all. Had the pieces been sewn together a little more tightly–or at all–it would have been less of a chore to be reminded of my commitment as a viewer; it was easy to stay connected once each section was underway, but the longish breaks in the action would jolt me out of my trance. One quartet made the interesting choice to restart the music–a vinyl-poppy rip of an old tango–and play it again from the beginning. It reminded me of something Daniel Handler says to Stephin Merritt in the liner notes to 69 Love Songs, that repeating something in a song gives it a second meaning (talking about the fucking amazing Magnetic Fields song “How To Say Goodbye”).
In sum, Japan Dance Now is a solid program and unlike any night you’ll have at a dance concert this year. There are two more shows (tomorrow and Saturday at eight) and it’s a good ticket. Like I said, tonight was full and if you don’t have a seat you should call ASAP. There were other press there, but I haven’t read a word yet (firsties!). So there it is, folks: My first as-soon-as-I-get-home review for trailerpilot. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for Saturday, when I see Batsheva Dance Company perform Deca Dance at the Auditorium.