16th Contemporary Dance Showcase: Japan + East Asia
"Traverse" by Shang-chi Sun; "How to Say" by I-fen Tung and M.O.V.E Theatre; "Marmont" by Kaori Seki Co. Punctumun; "Newton" by Nobuyuki Hanabusa/enra; "Alphard" by Mikiko Kawamura
New York, NY
January 9, 2015
by Tom Phillips
copyright 2015 by Tom Phillips
Critics sometimes write about a dancer’s “perfume,” but actually to inhale the scent of a dance is something else. The theme of Japan Society's Contemporary Dance Showcase was extending dance into other dimensions, and the most memorable piece began not with a sight or a sound, but a smell. Tokyo choreographer Kaori Seki collaborated with perfumer Toshifumi Yoshitake in "Marmont," and together they create a potent atmosphere.
I-fen Tung and Daniel Wang in "How to Say." Photo credit: © Chang-Chih Chen.
“How to Say,” by Taiwanese choreographer I-fen Tung, looked to language to extend the vocabulary of dance. It began as a girl-boy duet for Tung and Daniel Wang, dancing around each other within a semi-circle of microphone stands. Their contact looked like the kind of emotional exchange that precedes conversation. Eventually they did seize the microphones and begin to speak, mixing Chinese and English, misunderstanding, arguing. Then the mics became symbols or signs – batons, daggers, phalluses, clubs, juggling pins, pens, back-scratchers – with all the functions implied. This is the power of language and Wang, who wrote the text, uses it to get the upper hand. He lies down on his back and croons into the microphone, telling Tung what he likes about her, calling the shots for her movements. Most experiments incorporating words into dance are written by people who don’t know how to write, but this was different – speech as action rather than thought.
"Newton" was more of a video spectacle than a dance. Director Nobuyuki Hanabusa used computer-generated motion graphics to enhance the movements of two men and two women. Dancing in front of a big screen, the men strut around on rings of Saturn and set off big explosions in virtual space. The women’s ballet steps generate cascades of flowers. This looks great on Youtube, where it has five million hits and counting. But without the cool graphics, there wouldn't be much to watch.
The show opened and closed with solos that owed much to American street dance. In the opener, Chang-shi Sun of Taiwan and Berlin showed off his mastery of a wide range of dance and martial arts movement. We saw yoga, ballet, kung fu and tai-chi, popping and locking, crouching tigers and hidden dragons in "Traverse." This was a tour de force that said "don't mess with this guy," but it also included some introspective walking and standing, a peek at a more vulnerable self.
Another message came through in an equally masterful solo by a Japanese woman, Mikiko Kawamura. Dancing to raucous rap, a Buddhist chant and then a Chopin Polonaise, she seemed possessed, tormented by sounds that controlled her movements. She put on some eye-popping displays of fast articulation, rippling her chest, flailing her limbs and swiveling her head. The emotion behind the dance may have been revealed in the lyric of the rap song -- "I want to KILL everybody in the world!"
The quality of dancing was superb throughout the program, something we've come to expect from the troupes imported by Japan Society's artistic director, Yoko Shioya. This showcase has yet to disappoint.
Copyright 2015 by Tom Phillips
Photo credit: © Chang-Chih Chen