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Japan Dance Now

with performances by Baby Q, Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance Club, and Nibroll

by Becca Hirschman

January 29, 2009 -- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, California

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts over the past few years has developed into an innovative arts presenting powerhouse. Not only is most of their season eclectic and forward-thinking, but also the visiting companies continue to challenge audiences’ minds and souls. Thursday night’s presentation of “Japan Dance Now” promised a window into Japan’s modern dance landscape, and it delivered, mixing the slick and the wow with the huh.

Baby Q, led by founder/dancer Yoko Higashino and live electronic musicians including Toshio Kajiwara, gave us an excerpt from the cerebral “E/G – Ego Geometria.” The overarching work looks at the physical and metaphysical aspects of the space-time continuum. In this solo excerpt, Higashino moved across the stage abruptly at first while dressed in clunky heels and draped skin-colored stretchy fabric from the top of her head to her thighs. Without being able to see her facial expressions, the images became shapes without emotion. Early on, Higashino walked decisively amongst different pools of light, yanking her arms and bending as if held about by strings, and partway through, she pulsed from her abdomen, almost as if a giant earthquake was coming while the music grew more insistent with each thumpety thump. Across the back wall, angular and formulaic images popped up, but the projection was best used when showing nightvision-like video images of Higashino, especially as she started to move more towards the metaphysical, shedding her cocoon for a ruby red dress sans face covering. Here, her movements became softer yet more powerful as she carved through space, with a yearning look piercing through her eyes as if to say, “All of this is me. Take what you will.”

Still dynamic yet utterly unassuming was Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance Club, an all-female Butoh-influenced troupe from Osaka who performed an excerpt from “The End of Water,” which is a series of interludes focusing on images and archetypes of femininity. With multiple costume changes, the sections flowed slowly but well. The company opened with stark white water nymphs who slowly rolled on the ground and transitioned to a lone woman dressed in an obi, slowly walking underneath a low-flying plane. The women then donned brownish separates, crawling in a small circle but then standing up and turning slowly in a circle. I wanted to be mesmerized, but instead thought this is what it would be like if the Borg went to prom. The last portion felt the most satisfying. With the five dancers donning traditional white blouses and knee-length skirts, they splayed themselves across wooden chairs and stared in to delicate handheld mirrors. Gazing at their own reflections, the women gracefully gaped, frowned, gawked, cried, and smiled while tilting their heads and shoulders at slight yet different angles. The slow, controlled, yet various positions and mannerisms were beautiful to watch, but didn’t create that transcendental experience that I have come to anticipate with most Butoh performances. I’m sure that a devoted evening would provide a greater context, but the thirty-five minutes gave an ample taste of the soft-stepping group and their immense skill.

Nibrol, an artists’ collective that features dancers and multimedia, reflected on everyday movements and activities connected with aggressive behavior through the lens of drinking coffee. In the excerpt from “Coffee,” animation and live-action video played behind the five dancers as they danced, interacted, and argued with each other. With bright colors and fast-paced music, this should have been Japanese pop, but instead Mikuni Yanaihara’s choreographic pacing just felt long and tiring.

So what is dance in Japan like now? It’s diverse, powerful, soft, in your face, chaotic, focused, and/or multifaceted. Take your pick. Right now.

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