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Takayuki Fujimoto, Takao Kawaguchi, and Tsuyoshi Shirai


by Juliet Neidish

November 15, 2008 -- Japan Society, New York City

Japan Society actively produces a full range of Japanese culture in its aesthetically designed building in New York City.  Its current performance season entitled, “Beyond Boundaries: Genre-Bending Mavericks”, is comprised of works aimed at stretching the boundaries of conventional performing arts.

In this series, the piece called, “true” (November 15, 2008), was conceived collaboratively between three Japanese artists.  Lighting designer Takayuki Fujimoto and performer Takao Kawaguchi who work together in their multi-media performance company called dumb type, teamed with choreographer/dancer/video artist Tsuyoshi Shirai, to fashion what was billed as a surreal world created by the spectacular collision of dance and technology.  The program states that the piece questions our assumptions about the truths concerning such elements as time, space, and sound, and press material claimed the piece created a “jaw-dropping revelation of lights, sound, video and human body… a shocking and sophisticated wonderland”.  Earplugs were handed out to the audience, a warning that the technology of this “world” would be loud.

Rather than attempt an in-depth critique of the claims and hype describing this 70-minute performance, I will simply say that I saw the piece differently.  To me, “true” was not spectacular although it was at times unnecessarily loud despite using the designated earplugs.  The piece was nicely light, but not ground breaking in any respect, let alone genre-bending.  It began with a young dancer (Shirai) exploring objects that were sitting on a table.  In a child-like and childish way he reacts with surprise and curiosity as the objects make various electronic sounds when lifted or moved.  A red-hooded figure (Kawaguchi) watches above from nearby scaffolding.  As he enters onto the dance floor, specifically intercepting the initial dancer, I realized the potential for an engaging piece lay in the interaction between these two contrasting movers.

As the piece progressed there was some nice choreography for duets including movement in unison that was quite interesting to watch.  A cryptic relationship between the dancers develops.  It would have been satisfying to see more movement passages and less pedestrian-style busy work between the young fluid dancer dressed in sweats and the more domineering, percussive dancer in a business suit.  Despite their different ways of moving, their presences had equal command and they worked quite well together.

Nevertheless, the piece seemed to be more concerned with displaying small physical feats with props including a table with no center used to walk on and hang through.  High-speed task work, multi-media technology such as video and visual text projected on a screen, rotating light and shadow, and piercing electronic sound were the main events.  These elements were well rehearsed and maneuvered seamlessly.  The focus on technology did not add poetry nor did it make me ask vital questions, nor was it anything I had never experienced before.

I left the theater wondering why this was supposed to be so spectacular while still hoping that one day I would see an evening of work that focused primarily on the physicality and connection between these two figures freed from the noisy technological world they labored to invent.

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