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The Pleasures of Reticence and Atmosphere: Kota Yamazaki & Fluid Hug-Hug, gently, 2012


[Originally published under Oregon Arts Watch]


The wooden pieces, sticking upright like grave markers in the almost imperceptible mist caused by shadows, suddenly become trees and stumps around which the performers sit while the sound of birds echoes. The performance ends.

Kota Yamazaki’s new piece, “(glowing),” as performed by Kota Yamazaki/Fluid Hug-Hug at TBA on Sunday night, is part butoh, part ballet, part performance art. This comes as no surprise given the choreographer’s initial training in the Japanese dance form and then his subsequent training in ballet. Where things get interesting is when a more international dance sensibility is introduced, mixing the slow, calculated movements of butoh with rhythmic and repetitive body vibrations, contemporary dress, ever-drifting lights and a soundtrack that fades in and out of hearing.

Inspired by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s essay “In Praise of Shadows,” written in 1933, Yamazaki endeavors to meld Japanese taste and tradition with the avant-garde. Often he takes heed of the author’s words, “For so accustomed are we to electric lights that the sight of a naked bulb beneath an ordinary mild glass shade seems simpler and more natural than any gratuitous attempt to hide it.” Simply showing the movement and the performers without trying to hide them amidst sets and costumes has the most impact, resonating with the audience in a way that is an even mix of reality and the theatrical.

The idea of the body being moved (as opposed to the body moving) is certainly prevalent in “(glowing),” drawing directly on the butoh aesthetics that Yamazaki first studied. The six dancers (from Japan, America, Ethiopia, and Senegal) seem to be at once controlled by strings or by internal gears. They twist and slump like broken toys or people possessed. Each performer seems to be acting upon the others, spreading a movement through the group via proximity and then disappearing altogether into the wings or the shadow of the background.

Noticeably, each dancer is almost always moving. Even standing at the front of the stage, looking into the audience while the other dancers continue, one performer barely twitches her finger, her neck, her toe, her eyes. The small movements intrigue us the most in “(glowing).” You barely realize that for the last two minutes one of the dancers has been standing with a foot two inches off the ground, but when you do the feeling of constant movement, of imbalance, takes hold.

An ebb and flow of activity courses through this work, often without either a crescendo in the music or a build-up of movement. Instead, the slowness or stillness of one is counteracted by the manic gestures of the others.

Tanizaki writes: “Japanese music is above all a music of reticence, of atmosphere. When recorded, or amplified by a loudspeaker, the greater part of its charm is lost. In conversation, too, we prefer the soft voice, the understatement. Most important of all are the pauses.”

The silence of the initial sections of the dance allows the audience to focus on the slight sounds of the performers creeping across the stage. This priming of the senses helps to move one slowly into the piece, taking for granted no action and being made aware of even the slightest shadow.

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Sources:

Tanizaki, Jun’ichiro. “In Praise of Shadows”. New York, NY: Leete’s Island Books, 1977.



Video preview of “(glowing)” by the Japan Society.