Sure, downtown dance has its shock jocks and cultural critics. But for startling, kick-to-the-gut social allegory, I’ll take the Japanese—especially the two acts that opened the 10th annual Japanese Contemporary Dance Showcase.
Jo Kanamori’s NINA—materialize sacrifice—1 super st Part is just what it sounds like: creepy, futuristic fantasy. To the sound of heavy breathing and drumbeats, the lights go up on a tableau of stock-still bodies: women in flesh-colored leotards, smooth and waxy as Barbies. Under harsh lights, a lone man in a suit sits in a chair: interrogation room meets gymnastics workout.
The lights flick off and on, and now black-suited men swarm the stage. They’re eerie puppeteers who get off on manipulating the female mannequins’ floppy limbs, while the drums keep beating. Then, about halfway through, a mannequin is deserted onstage. And to our horror, the rag doll starts to move.
While Kanamori (who worked with Jiri Kylian and Maurice Béjart) dresses his expressionist howl in Euro sleekness, Kim Itoh + the Glorious Future come out of the Butoh tradition: They take their alienation straight up. Itoh’s 1996 tour de force Dead and Alive opens with a man (Itoh) in a white nightshirt on the floor. Behind him, three nude men crouch in the shadows, hiding their genitals with one hand.
There are elements of Butoh here—the inching progress, the clown-like faces—but there is something passionately contemporary too. The music—orchestral, warm Mendelssohn and Ravel—underscores a palpable longing. The man in white (Itoh) thrashes against life; the insubstantial nudes hover at its edge. And they yearn, yearn to trade places.