A feast of innovative dance was served up at the Japan Society at the end of last week. Where else might you have found a performance from Taiwan joined with state-of-the-art digital lighting, a mime-dance-sketch of sinister hilarity from two of Japan’s leading modern dancers, a jolly hip-hop romp from a hot star and a moving interpretation of Japan’s 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster in one evening? All were being performed for the first time in the USA. Over the years, the Dance Showcase has become a launch pad for Asian dance in the States, and no wonder given the quality of performance on display.
Taiwan’s Anarchy Dance Theatre was the first course in the feast with a piece called Seventh Sense. Two dancers, Hsiao-Yuan Lin and Yu-Chieh Lee, occupied a white open-sided cube in which digital light patterns were synchronized to their movement. The dancers appeared to move pools of light around the stage like two colorful amoeba attached to their feet. Then the walls behind them turned into a cubic landscape that shifted with them as they danced with graceful fluidity. Equality of strength came to the fore as the female dancer lifted her male partner as much as he lifted her. The walls then changed into what looked like a digital forest of green seaweed. The light show was created in collaboration with Ultra Combos, a group of new media and technology artists, and the digital display was so mesmerising that the dance felt somewhat peripheral.
In the next course, an exuberant piece called Send it, Mr. Monster took center stage, created by Tokyo Electrock Stairs. The choreography and music were conceived by Kentaro!! an up-and-coming dance star. He led a group of four dancers through an energetic hip-hop-inspired dance that looked like playground games executed by disaffected youths. The standard of dance was much more studio than street, with astonishing synchronization.
Misshitsu: Secret Honey Room- Duo Version acted as a palate cleanser. Makoto Enda (with his group, Makotocluv) is an established performer, not just on stage but on the streets. His pieces often poke fun at everyday life and here, with Kumotaro Mukai, he delivered an uncomfortably funny piece in which a salary man is manipulated by a goblin: a white-faced ghost butler in coat tails riding a child’s tricycle. If that sounds wild, it is. Billed as “new post-post-butoh”, there’s no doubt that the piece owes much beyond the white make-up to the butoh tradition, with its grotesque style and technically difficult choreography. It was a refreshing interlude marred only by excessive strobe lighting.
Those strobes were unleashed to excess again for the final course, Haigafuru – Ash is falling – a dance interpretation of Japan’s nuclear disaster, created by Kosei Sakamoto. But the lighting didn’t detract from the technically perfect performance of the four dancers as they moved from the front to the back of the stage in agonizingly complex and tortured-looking poses. As exhilarating as it was exhausting to watch, it amply conveyed the tragedy of recent events.
The Japan Society is like a little jewel box on 47th Street, a storehouse of exquisite treasures in both the visual and performing arts. The trick is to catch them, as their runs of shows are fleeting. Watch out for the Dance Showcase when it returns: it opens a door on a creative world that you would otherwise have to travel a great distance to see.