New York, NY
April 27, 2012
By Martha Sherman
copyright © 2012 by Martha Sherman
Kota Yamazaki’s “(glowing)” does just that: it hovers in a place between light and shadow, and produces a soft warm energy throughout. The Butoh-trained Yamazaki uses its tradition: darkness and light, and deliberate pace, as his mooring – but just as a starting point. The black and white costumes and deep shifts between light and darkness evoked contrast; the message and movement yielded connection.
Often on the balls of their feet, the dancers skimmed over the stage, breaking in and out of their own dance traditions. Each dancer had an idiosyncratic and unique movement set. Mina Nishamura opened the piece; her hallmark was a quiet stillness. Wearing a sculptural costume with bell-like white bloomers, Nishamura’s elegant glide anchored the action. Where Nishamura’s was centered in stillness, the core movements of her opening partner, Ethiopian Shiferu Tariku, were built on strength. He started in a low powerful squat, and oozed diagonally across the stage. Later, his shoulders and torso exploded into rapid shivers, his back a sculpture of dozens of individual curves, but then he folded smoothly and quietly back to his low compact pose. When these two danced together, both stillness and strength were much more powerfully evoked; the entire work reveled in these moments where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.
When she was introduced onstage, Senegalese dancer Marie Agnes Gomis performed the most frenzied and mesmerizing movement. Her rotating arms sliced through the air like fan blades; her feet stomped faster and more wildly. She moved almost in a dervish trance, balanced and relentless. Her partners sank back to give her the spotlight, but when her energized solo ended, she faded back into the shadows, too. In counterbalancing frenzy, Ryoji Sasamoto danced an equally energized dance; he was like a sculpture of melting rubber limbs, his muscles collapsing, and then reasserting themselves, each distinct and fluid.
Through each dancer’s unique moments, the company fluidly melted in and out of groupings, as they followed the shifting light and shadow (designed by Kathy Kaufmann.) Small groupings were a background chorus to a solo. In an intriguing, off-balance quartet, Eva Schmidt tentatively danced in the bright spotlight as a powerful trio moved behind her: Gomis, Sasamoto, and Tarkiku were in the darkness upstage, their backs to the audience, moving in easy unison. Unsure of where to look, the light drew our eyes to the soloist, the movement drew our eyes to the trio dancing in the darkness.
The music by Kohji Setoh and the set by architect Robert Kocik were simple, elegant, and deliberate. The score didn’t mimic nature, but evoked it, and included soft bells, light rumbles like almost-thunder, pops and silence barely edged in crinkles of sound. The set was two wooden sculptures suspended on cables, like hanging door lintels; one was a simple rectangle, the other a cross piece with several hanging wooden spears. Late in the piece, the dancers lowered the wooden planks and pulled them apart, placing each stake upright as if in a sacred Shinto garden.
Kota Yamazaki cited the classic 1933 essay by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s, In Praise of Shadows as inspiration for his exploration of darkness and light. In that essay, Tanizaki focused on the cultural dichotomy of East and West; Yamazaki chose the cultural dichotomy of Japan and Africa to explore the same themes. In the connections and contrasts that underpin “(glowing),” its richness comes from the evocative shadow between the boundaries.
Photos by Julie Lemberger
Top: front: Ryoji Sasamoto, Maggie Bennett, Shiferaw Tarkiku, Mina Nishimura
Bottom: Maggie Bennett, Mina Nishimura, Ryoji Sasamoto, Shiferaw Tariku, Eva Schmidt