So much at the Time Based Art festival is in your face. Big Art Group screams about Greek tragedy and squirts ketchup all over the place. Miguel Gutierrez unleashes a mile-a-minute monologue about a thousand topics. This can be exhausting, and it can also trick you into thinking that performance is supposed to assault you in some way. That’s why I was so glad to catch (glowing), a clean and beautiful piece by Japanese dancer-choreographer Kota Yamazaki. It reminded me that performance—even the risk-taking experimental stuff—need not smack you in the face to carry lasting impact.
Yamazaki is trained in butoh, the slow-moving, deliberate avant-garde movement form that emerged in Japan in the late 1950s. (glowing), performed by Yamazaki’s New York City-based company Fluid Hug-Hug, takes butoh as a departure point but digs far deeper. Each of the six performers (from Japan, Ethiopia, Senegal and the U.S.) has a distinctive, captivating movement vocabulary, and together they explore the connections and contrasts between different dance forms: butoh, African, contemporary, ballet.
Japanese dancer Mina Nishamura opens the work with unhurried elegance, practically floating as she rises and falls on and off her toes. Shiferu Tariku, from Ethiopia, sets off Nishamura’s quiet deliberation with powerful undulations, the ripples of his back reminiscent of a mouse traveling down a snake’s gullet. Japanese dancer Ryoji Sasamoto brings an increased frenzy, at one point bobbing up and down like a flea, at another point drawing from break dance traditions. Senegalese dancer Marie Agnes Gomis exhibits the wildest movements, windmilling her arms, leaping and stomping. But she remains controlled, with consistent focused intensity.
For much of the 75-minute performance, the dancers move independently. Though each has an idiosyncratic style and energy, they reflect and echo one another, especially when they break the isolation and enter fluid groupings. These moments of interaction are magnificent and somehow meditative, even restorative.
Yamazaki found inspiration for (glowing) in the 1933 essay “In Praise of Shadows” by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, which explores Japanese aesthetics of light and darkness. The performance’s lighting, in an obvious nod to Tanizaki, shifts from bright to inky. Cast on a stark white stage, the effect is spare but mesmerizing. The score is correspondingly minimalist: the dancers often perform in silence, which is punctuated by naturalistic sounds (birds chirping, water dripping) and soft clicks, pops and bell-like rings. Wooden sculptures hang above the stage until the end of the performance, when the dancers lower and dismantle them, placing planks upright around them. Though I liked the final tableau—the waist-high wooden stakes reminded me of skyscrapers, making the dancers larger-than-life around them—the distracting process of disassembly broke some of the performance’s harmony.
I forgave easily, though. As an acquaintance noted afterwards, she wanted to go straight to sleep, to avoid glimpsing anything that would sully her clean and pretty memories of the performance. I agreed. My palate cleansed, I was ready for the next day’s onslaught. Bring it on, TBA.