phile under: TBA 2010
TBA 2010: Offsite Dance Project
Two Japanese masters coax the audience beyond the comfort zone.
Zan Yamashita/Ezra Dickinson
“Lefta foota! Lighta foota! " barked Yamashita, as Dickinson furiously kept pace with his dance instructions, dipping and leaping and falling in a complex choreography.
Every now and then, Yamashita would go slower. “I drew a circle with my pen,” he said, speaking of frustration in the writing process. At another point, he described a haunting memory he had, of seeing a cyclist killed in a traffic accident. He also described his constant quest for individual expression and technical excellence in dance. And then he unleashed another blast of commands.
This piece seemed to be working on at least a couple levels: one, there was the aforementioned artist’s struggle. Two, there was the dancer’s struggle, to keep pace and fulfill orders. The third struggle— whether an intentional element of the piece, or just a function of circumstance—was communication and translation. Though Yamashita was speaking English, his strong Japanese accent and rapid pacing challenged the audience to concentrate harder, to strain further into the classic gap between sender and receiver to actively grasp the message.
“Work for it!” the piece seemed to say. “Meet us at least halfway!”
“Why make us stand in the rain?” was the unanimous unasked question, as we trekked several blocks from PNCA and huddled under too few umbrellas in the bricked, littered enclave behind Bridgeport Brewery. Yukio Suzuki lay sprawled across a second-story bannister, light hitting his soaking white limbs and shirt, as Wayne Horvitz’s crystalline, haunting soundscape pierced the sheeting downpour.
He was doing something. He was blowing up a white balloon. The shadow of man, bannister, and ever-enlarging balloon fell on the far brick wall. The balloon consumed the head, and we beheld, briefly, a balloon-headed man. The balloon was let go and drifted gracefully to the ground, like a profound thought that briefly expanded and quickly passed.
(Oh, the balloon as poetic objet. Romantic, yet totally unsentimental, due to its simplicity of shape. And with so many symbolic implications! Spherical = universal or whole. Floating upward = transcendence, optimism—or unattainability. Expanding = growth, hope. Popping = fragility, temporariness. The Red Balloon, 99 Luftballons, The Boy In The Bubble.)
Suzuki slung himself over the bannister and began to move along the catwalk toward a wooden staircase. Many of his motions dramatically over-swung, and others jerkily corrected. His overall bearing began to feel very familiar: If he wasn’t depicting a drunken reverie, he could have fooled me.
As he half-fell down the steps, Suzuki seemed the most poetic kind of drunk, interspersing his stumbles with flights of grandiosity. At one point, legs sprawled below him, he outstretched his arms and bobbed his head, stiffly pantomiming a symphony conductor. All the while, the rain sparkled and drenched, under a gradually darkening sky, which, as you can imagine, was wildly cinematic, and probably answered the question “why…?”
Suzuki landed at the foot of the stairs, danced haltingly in the courtyard, and then sprang up a ladder on the adjacent wall. He was on the roof. On the corner of the roof, now shirtless and sinewy, and majestically oblivious, he let out a howl of volatile triumph, and violently heaved down the chimney.
We’ve all born passive witness at times, to other people in the throes of physical or emotional intensity. We’ve held back their hair, or held back their fists, or talked them down from the rooftops and given them a towel to dry off with. This performance evoked those moments, but relieved us of the responsibility to mitigate, letting us simply thrill at the otherworldly spectacle of a human being exhausting himself in a bender of transcendence, danger and despair.