After the Lunar Eclipse – a Dancer Becomes a (Literal) Star

I may have previously promised no more syndicated content, but I lied.  I recently remembered a performance I attended in Nagoya, Japan, with my colleagues from ModernDanceYou Co. of Gifu, Japan, and the review I wrote afterwards.  This solo performance, which I saw on July 24, 2011, played with shadow and light in what I have come to understand as a particular expression of a traditional Japanese aesthetic (see In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanazaki).  What follows is my take on the evening.

Yesterday I went to see a solo dance performance at Aichi Arts Center in Nagoya with several of my dance colleagues.  An internationally renowned artist, Motoko Hirayama, presented After the Lunar Eclipse, a dance first premiered in 2009 in the same space.  In it, she collaborated with lighting designer Takuro Osaka for an hour-long installation work pairing dance with light.

Everything goes black.  Rhythmic pounding and crashes of bass instruments commence, and in the darkness the pounding reverberates inside my head.  A diagonal path of light appears, and in it, a dancer enters stage left.  Slowly, she is pulled toward stage right, performing a series of slow walks punctuated by regal lunges and rond de jambes.  Although she quickly approaches stage right, she constantly leans backwards as if she’s simultaneously fascinated and frightened by what she’ll find.  When she reaches her destination, she breaks into a robotic, doll-like dance of jerky movements and stiffly held poses.  She appears to be breaking down and yet she never loses her regal stature.  Again, everything goes black.

When light reappears, I see LED lights flashing like stars.  Rows of lights hang from the backdrop and sparkle in turn.  The dancer appears stage left again, rippling in her costume like a serpent, reflecting light from her gold costume.  She winds her way across the space, and suddenly a long piece of light appears stage right.  It slowly passes across the stage as she plays with the space between shadow and light, what is seen and not seen.  She constantly searches for the light, choosing to illuminate in turns her face, her hands, a foot, a flip of her leg.  Up to this point, the piece makes a wonderful visual experiment with dance and light.  The dancer is interested in the light but not a part of the light completely, and maybe a little afraid of the light.  Her progress is half self-induced and half forced.

The next two sections break this narrative for me and become about her showing off her virtuosity.  The music shifts abruptly into operatic score, and the lights brighten to an almost theatrical level.  While so far her dancing could be described as understated, it could never be described as less than amazing – her fluidity and precision are second to none I’ve seen – she seems to feel the need to prove herself as a virtuoso.  She starts moving incredibly quickly, flickering movement throughout her entire body, throwing herself into turns and floorwork.  She has two speeds: quick as can be and completely stopped.  I suppose she is trying to embody the frenetic energy of light, but it doesn’t come across that way due to her dropping any light design themes from these two sections.  While I appreciate watching a technical dynamo do her thing, I couldn’t help but wonder if she had developed this particular movement aesthetic for this piece, or if this was her only movement aesthetic and I would see it in every piece she made.  From what my friends said of her before and after the performance, I gather it is more the latter, which I find unfortunate.  I find I enjoy artists better the more diverse their catalog, even if their technical virtuosity is not as developed as that of other dancers.

After these two sections, she returns to her light experiments with a literal bang.  The music shifts back to the opening formula of crashes, and the stripe of light returns center stage.  She is drawn to the back of the stage in the center of the light, and subsumed in the eclipse.  When light returns, she is gone, and only a shadow remains.  The shadow dissipates and she appears, covered in LED lights.  The final sections bring a calm to the piece as the dancer becomes a part of what she fought becoming in the beginning.  Her LED lights flicker delicately at first, pulsing on and off to again showcase exactly the moments she wishes.  Each time more turn on, illuminating greater percentages of her body, until the entire structure is visible.  The lights begin to pulse, in turns erratic and rhythmically, as her dance reaches a fever pitch.  If her movement during the operatic section had been a little different than her movement as a star, I would have believed her transformation a lot more.  As it stands, her movement style really didn’t shift, so the only things marking her change are the costume and lighting design.  This is an example of a dancer relying too much on the supporting elements of her show and not enough on the themes of her dancing.

She achieved a great ending, however.  As she flickers in her stars, the LED lights at the back of the stage begin to flicker again.  The dancer moves toward the backdrop, her lights fading until she appears to have become part of the backdrop.  She becomes part of the night sky.  Everything winks out and fades to black.

Watching this dance, I was impressed by the adventuresome nature of the collaboration and the dancer’s unique movement style.  I’ve expressed what I saw as the piece’s shortcomings, but those were slight, and in the end her message comes through.  I believe the place of art is to challenge boundaries of technique and thought, and this piece did both at times.

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