Japan Society’s contemporary dance festival, an annual event that samples recent works from several East Asian countries, skipped last year, with the assumption that surely by 2022 everything would be back to normal. It’s all good.
Even as the latest virus variant and surge have forced more cancellations and postponements in New York theaters, the show at the society’s Midtown home did go on this weekend, nearly as planned, with four North American premieres, a reduced capacity audience and extra-strict rules on masks (N95 or KN95 required). The pandemic’s vicissitudes forced one group from Japan into appearing by video, which allowed the program to be more than just a window into distant scenes. It also demonstrated the differences between live dance and filmed dance.
The preshow was spectacularly live. As part of the Taiwanese choreographer Wei-Chia Su’s FreeSteps project, the exceptionally agile dancer NiNi (also known as Yu-Ting Fang) performed on a stage island in the lobby of Japan Society. She spiraled sensuously, twisting her body to the edge. She looked like someone who is constantly escaping from herself and sometimes paused to stretch her body skyward. This was dance as moving sculpture. It’s a three-dimensional study that is best seen in person.
By contrast, the first selection in the theater was flat — and not only because it was onscreen. “A Hum San Sui,” by Kentaro Kujirai and Barabbas Okuyama, the Japanese choreographers and performers, seemed ill-served by film. The Butoh performers were magnified by close-ups; the framing only exacerbated their mutual circling. In an amusing coda, the artists made fun at themselves.
“Complement,” by the Korean duo of Minsun Choi and Jinan Kang, was partially about the gap between recorded and live performance. The video director Taegyeong Kim, who was on stage with a camera filming the dance, occasionally hooked up her equipment to two flat-screen monitors and connected it to the laptops. The footage of Choi, Kang and their movements on those screens was not recorded live. Their movements onscreen were very different from the ones they were performing onstage. It was a clever reminder that every live performance can be unique.
The choreography was also droll. The rhythmic clicks and clangs of metronomic clicks and clangs made the two dancers dance like parts of a machine designed to do a pendular hip-wagging dance, similar to the floss. This seemingly absurd feat was altered periodically by the addition of props (balls or tape) and the slapstick humiliation imposed on Kang (pants dropping down to the ankles). This apparent randomness was sometimes synchronized with divergent video: timing that would have been impressive (and funny) only as live.
For mind-bending paradoxes, it’s hard to beat quantum physics, the subject of the final selection, “Touchdown,” a solo by the Taiwanese mathematician-turned-choreographer Hao Cheng. Projected text explained some of the physicist Niels Bohr’s epochal discoveries about the fixed orbits of electrons, and then Cheng came onstage and collapsed.
The rest of the work suggested but never clearly explained a personal prompt for that collapse — something about how our paths in life might seem set but are actually uncertain.
Kang, however, was unable to stop expressing frustration at the uncertainty as he drew concentric circles with chalk on the floor and floated around in a pastel version action painting. He wondered how something could be both a wave and particle. How can we find loss in gain?
Or, to put it another way, how long can this pandemic persist?
We can’t know, but we can pay attention to moments like the final image in “Touchdown” — floating lights representing how electrons “glow when they fall.” And we can remember not to take for granted visits from abroad.
Source: NY Times