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Friday, September 12, 2003

TBA:WhatWhereWhen 

TBA:WhatWhereWhen
Thursday, September 11

Eiko & Koma’s Offering (performed in the fountain at Jamison Square) is one the latest in a series of site-specific Butoh-based dance pieces that engage the elements and unfold through contained slow deliberation and a haunting use of music. Being familiar with their work somewhat (I’d seen their Wind/Land in 1993 and River in 1996), I was looking forward to seeing them again.

Before I go too much further, I should probably confess at this point that I didn’t realize right away that the piece was first performed outdoors in NYC’s Battery Park next to the WTC site. Or that, in fact, yesterday was the anniversary of 9/11. I don’t dislike work that is “about” something, but after reading that the work is “a ritual of regeneration. . . [filling] a communal need for a ritual of mourning” I felt like I was being told how to feel. The wallow which preceded the tragedy of 9/11 (with little or no change of consciousness for us as a country)—and its subsequent hijacking by the Rabelaisian powers-that-be—has so far not produced a lot of art. And I prefer my mourning to be of a more private nature. I think the group-hug curatorial decision to double-dog didacticize the piece by framing it on a national day of mourning only served to heighten the lugubriousness of the work—and ultimately negated the sheer power of the tableaux with a manipulative social contrivance. So shame PICA. But I digress. . .

Save for the sounds of water, wind, and traffic, the work began in silence in the center of the fountain (surrounded by a flickering candles). Like their mentor, Kazuo Ohno—one of Butoh’s pioneers, E&K have a strong penchant toward lyrical über-slowness and a fragmentary time-sense that can be quite transcendental—a visually arresting human slide show. They’ve definitely learned from Ohno’s filtering of expressionistic German dance (with his Wigman-like contortive tableaux that wade knee-deep in Schumann), but have somehow with this piece managed to convey an almost silent-film like pantomime that (compared to the power of Wind) came across as a little mannered, and almost precious.
A little Caspar David Friedrich-Young Wertherish in its tragic overtones— A butoh “dying swan” act painted by Frederick Leighton. The music didn’t really help. If you want to really manipulate the emotions of a crowd (and that’s what it felt like) go with Gorecki’s 3rd or Barber’s Adagio for Strings. I missed the sublime quality that Robert Mirabel brought to their earlier pieces.

What’s strong in all of E&K’s work for me has been a continual arc of reviving, lament, mourning, birth and rebirth, and the intertwining/enveloping of elements and bodies. And while I’m a little more partial to the disfigured, jarring Hijikata-Min Tanaka butoh, I’ve had levitatingly moving experiences with these two (especially in serene site-specific places). But I couldn’t help feeling that the life-death-renewal theme may have frayed a bit.

Compositionally the best moments of Offering were between trickles of water seeping away and the hypnotic surge of the fountain reanimating. . .with solitary, still limbs moving through slow frames—arching, yearning, wrenching, spreading crysanthemum decay.

Ultimately I felt moved, not so much by the work, but by the setting and the hum of the crowd. The moon’s rise, the noise of time screeching to a halt, the rising and falling of water—a meditative, twilight jamboree that drew people to the heart of (and the essence of) what TBA should be about: the transformative power of live performance. . .as a convocation it was a beautifully wrapped gift and an ideal opening to the coming week’s disparate planes, margins, and entrance ramps.


—Tim DuRoche

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