AXIS Dance Company, inkBoat
Malonga Casquelourd Theater
November 13, 2010
by Rita Felciano
Copyright © by Rita Felciano
After his slyly teasing introduction to Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum, who inspired inkBoat and Axis Dance Company's collaborative journey into the shadowy realm beyond ordinary perception, choreographer Shinichi Iova-Koga leapt high and landed on his back, keeping his head and limbs suspended in the air. He looked like Kafka's Gregor Samsa. It was this spectacular athletic feat that opened a 75-minute piece in which Butoh met integrated dance for a work of shimmering delicacy and rock-solid physicality. ODC Theater commissioned the work for the inaugural season of its reconstructed theater.
The fact that both inkBoat and Axis work with non-normatively trained dancers and from a perspective that highly values individuality may have created a common basis which allowed for this uncommonly rich work to be generated. Whoever came with the idea of pairing these dancers deserves our thanks. This collaboration also vastly benefited from Heather Basarab's lighting design, the brown/beige costumes, looking like wrinkled skin by Sonsherée Giles and the live and electronic music by singer/vocalist Dohee Lee and cellist Alex Kelly who had stepped in for Joan Jeanrenaud in the performance I saw.
"ODD" is a dreamscape in which shapes and ideas coalesce into metaphors -- if you are inclined to see that way -- only to evaporate into fragments that on their own keep building a continuum of fragile strength. I kept thinking of clouds that materialize into recognizable formations and blow apart at the next passing of a wisp of air. Tiny gestures -- a shaking head, a trembling limb -- might be barely noticeable on one dancer but they acquired weight when they turned up on other bodies. Often they suggested commonality or some kind of mysterious communication. Dancers might be spread apart, each one engaged in his or own exploration when Iova-Koga pulled them together into unisons of, for instance, unevenly upstretched arms and upward glances. "ODD's" pacing flowed almost filmically so when everything stopped, as it did several times, you held your breath. At one point an explosion left the stage sprawled as with corpses. The only motion came from a spinning wheel of an overturned wheel chair. The silence was deafening.
Out of the unisons small ensembles and particularly accented solos emerged. Often they suggested organic processes. Giles wobbled across the floor on her toes and the knuckles of her fingers; she looked like one those bugs that walk on water. When Alice Sheppard rolled in and opened her strong arms, they were spreading air and light. Dana Iova-Koga, a stunningly expressive performer, started from a quasi fetal position and rose like a shoot emerging from a seed. With their backs to us, Dana Iova-Koga, Peiling Kao and Yuko K shed the top of their skin-colored costumes. All of sudden their torsos became shiny, smooth tree trunks that had shed their bark. Towards the end Kao and K started their duet literally in each other's faces. Spooning and circling, their tendril-like arms pushed them closer and closer together; they finally merged into a new kind being only to abruptly break apart. It was a very Butoh moment.
Delicacy was held in check by wit; it kept "ODD" from becoming precious. Rodney Bell, sitting in his wheelchair talked about hunting, about taking aim and the reluctance to shoot into a flock. He inhabited a different universe from Dana Iova-Koga who slowly made her way in front of him, precariously balancing on her toes with her torso leaning way back, as if reluctant to follow her feet. In a double duet, K sat on Bell's knees and furiously pedaled as if she were propelling the wheelchair. In front of them the magisterial Sheppard used her torso as a steam engine to take Sherwood Chen on a"victory ride". Chen had sat, statue-like at the feet of the musicians, but always ready to pounce. Right before the finale, Iova-Koga stepped back onto the stage and delivered a rather professorial lecture on hermaphrodism and the general principles of acquiring knowledge. In stormed a flock of ancillary performers, hopping, flailing and shredding attempts to squeeze experience into a rational frame work.
Butoh's signature move of the open-mouth, frozen-face gesture probably better than anything else suggests the human being as a shell from which whatever was inside has escaped. Iova-Koga used it a lot in "ODD" to the point where it began to look like a cliché. And when the silent scream turned vocal, it almost went over the top. Lee's ominous vocalizations, combined with percussion, were much more subtle and more effective in evoking an universal dread. I am also not sure whether we needed Giles throwing herself one more time onto Bell's wheelchair though the fearlessness of whatever that dancer attempts continues to impress.
Photo 1: Axis Dance Company and inkBoat, Michele Clement photographer
Photo 2: Yuko K (inkBOAT) and Rodney Bell (Axis), Pak Han photographer