Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Akira Kasai at On the Boards in Seattle - 2004

The living and the dead join together, a post by Judy Shintani made me think of a performance I saw years ago in Seattle. Not requested to write a review, I filed my notes for future reference. I suggest you click on this link while reading. Although unrelated the soundtrack fits the text below.

Akira Kasai’s performance at On the Boards starts in darkness, minimal lighting for a small figure in traditional Japanese dress and wig. Sound reminiscent of revving airplane engines, ready to leave, or changing from airborne to touch down. Japanese vocals, monotonous and accompanied by traditional Japanese instruments, drums and flute.

    The dancer’s feet in toe socks remind me of Merce Cunningham’s arthritic toes, my memory of the oldest living Don of Modern Dance a clash with Kabuki —pop ulist theater, artists in drag. Fluttering around, knees bent, Akira is an old courtesan and as the drums tremble, a pissed of geisha, an oxymoron.

    My patience is tested. I want the dancer to shed his costume, show me the movements without the layered kimonos, without the carefully held sleeves, without the headdress, or perhaps that could stay, that and the white make-up reminders of tradition. I want to see muscles move, the dancer’s physical translation of inner motivation.

    A change takes place, again the revving of airplane engines, the Kabuki character’s hands claw at the air, the face suffers distortions, the body convolu ted.  gobo creates an indistinct shadow on the white backdrop, a tree, a hill top, an amoeba maybe, then the stage is lit brightly as before and the dancer appears rejuvenated, though still imprisoned by traditional dress. Again the Japanese vocals, flute, drums, followed by airplane engines, clawing hands, rejuvenation. Repetition.

    What are the voices saying, what is the story, what propels the dancer? Are we, is the audience being mocked? I want to know. Apart from the dramatic changes, the anguish shown in face and hands, the repetition in movement, I don’t have a clue what’s going on. My wish to know hinders my understanding.

     Butoh —result of a post W.W.II incorporation of Noh (more serious, musical art form), Kabuki (popular entertainment) and Bunraku (puppets and storytelling)— a new movement language, “the dance of darkness” shocked and aggravated its & first audiences. No wonder, since one of the guerilla art pioneers, Tatsumi Hijikata’s interpretation of author Yokio Mishima’s “Kinjiki” (Forbidden Colors) involved the dancer’s (faux) intercourse with a chicken, leaving the fowl’s neck broken.

    The time warp continues, sweeping sounds of a snare instrument surface, the dancer births himself from the Kabuki performer, a whirling dervish swirling across the stage. A pin, a ribbon, parts of the headdress come undone, fall to the ground, then with a swing of the dancer’s head, the wig flies off. Lights dim and three dressers appear. Akira huffs and puffs loudly, expelling all air, breathing in without sound. In silhouette he’s undressed, layer after layer, dressers working in unison, part of the performance. The dancer, nude in silhouette, svelte å, sculpted; Adonis slides into pants, a shirt. He grabs a mirror, checks his make-up, the remaining dresser hand-combs the wig matted hair.

    Piano keyboard resonance. A shaft of light divides the backdrop and stage floor in half, the dancer contracts, releases, contracts, releases his muscles, his masculine body unrestrained by traditional costume. Another shaft of light appears on the diagonal, then another perpendicular to the first. Again the drone of airplane engines. Akira, center stage, where shafts of light intersect, suddenly in bright light, struggles. Submission, or defeat? Unclear. Again the time warp, no way out, or…

    Electronic mus ic, flight, light, expression. Bloop, bloop, sounds of heart throb, energetic movements, no more Japanese vocals. The dancer’s vocabulary expends, light footed, open, large and looser movements. Wake up, nothing minimal, but yes repetition, repetition, 1970’s wild pop/ rock dance.

    Eurythmics, harmonious rhythm, the art of visible music, initially created by Rudolf Steiner as a new movement art, neither mime nor dance. Specific sound gestures chosen and practiced in sequence, intensified and repeated to stimulate specific organic functions. A healthful workout. Akira’s secret?

    Drone of airplane engine, mime, a suggestion of break dance without the mind boggling, spine breaking, spinning and sliding of youth. The music slows down, keyboard, rhythm, again the clawing hands, movements more edgy, square, linear.

    In my mind I juxtapose the new movements on earlier Kabuki style, a doubling of images, my private video screening. Combinations show energy and command of body, muscles, movement. I’m overwhelmed by motion, no moment of rest, of peace, of contemplation. None of the poised silence Butoh is known for. Akira creates his own language.

    The dancer all but disappears from the well lit white dance floor into the wings, than jumps back making eye contact with audience. Piano and electronic music orchestral, lights bright. The dancer mimes, poses, gestures of a lunatic. Madonna’s “Vogue,” “Strike a pose, strike a pose” comes to mind.

    Then silence and back to earlier Kabuki movements, bent knees… Someone in the audience sneezes. The dancer arches an imaginary bow, shoots an arrow at the culprit, receiving the arrow in his own head. Success, people laugh, an other arrow, and another one, comic relieve. Is the shooting a reference to Yokio Mishima’s posing as Saint Sebastian shot dead with arrows and did I imagine hearing the dancer say, “see your blood ”?   

    Sliding outside the borders of the white dance floor the dancer strips again. Off the shirt, off the pants, replaced by egg shell trousers and a jacket that doesn’t match the hue. Much toe work, matching musical notes on moon lit stage. Again a near exit, then a dived return to front stage.

    The dancer, amazing ball of energy, loose and quiet for a moment, less than a moment. Talks to audience, appears wasted, no music, laughter, crazy, facial silent screams, lunacy. Jabbers Japanese, overhead music and vocals loud. American Hip Hop. The dancer runs on empty, a tired modern dancer, high on wari ´ness, fatigue. White confetti turns pink on the way from top to floor, he thanks the audience, accepts applause. Exits, returns. Elvis croons “Love me tender”, the dancer hugs flowers, tosses them around on the stage. The audience gives standing ovation, the dancer loves his audience, loves himself.

    Standing ovation for Butoh an oxymoron; Akira Kansai practices an art form in flux, ever changing, a new, his own language.

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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