Theater archives

Going Nowhere Beautifully


Hiroshi Koike named his company Pappa Tarahumara after a Mexican Indian tribe. He has made dance-theater works based on Chekhov’s The Three Sisters and a Gabriel García Márquez story, but his Ship in a View
is anchored only in his own imagination and his seaside hometown in Japan. A tiny, lit-up ship is pulled slowly across the stage to begin and end the piece, but the inhabitants of this place of mystery never leave. Toward the end, they exchange their intriguing dark gray clothes (designed by Koji Hamai) for identically cut ones in filmy silver, but that only announces the coming of dawn.

A tall, thick pole center-stage stands for a ship’s mast, a flagpole, and a lighthouse. Occasionally, the 12 marvelously vivid dancers rock gently and stare at the horizon; yet some also sit in the school benches and desks they’ve assembled onstage and either gaze raptly ahead or make grotesque butoh-style faces. The industrial noises in Masahiro Sugaya’s score contrast with the high, pure, echoing voice of singer-dancer Marika Ogawa and the occasional kabuki-style growls by the nimble and powerfully expressive Makoto Matsushima. Sometimes the performers seem to channel creatures. Rei Hashimoto crouches and bounces like a monkey. Other women pass through, hunched and scuttling like mice or bounding like deer (Kaori Kagaya fairly flies). We may not grasp the significance of all the curious events, but we do believe in them.

Takuya Ikeno (a man in a dress) creeps around aiming a knife but never harms anyone. Glasses of water are poured over people; the fluid is mopped up, and life goes on. Matsushima swoops around with one arm thrust into a headless puppet in a white gown who attempts to strangle others, including her master. He frames-in a little house and, outside its nonexistent wall, arranges pairs of red shoes that someone else later hurls offstage. Rie Kikuchi throws golf balls into the space. Sachiko Shirai rides a bicycle around for a while. Makie Sekiguchi sings in a deep, seductive voice and rubs her pregnant belly. Keiko Hiraki shows her underpants. Sometimes all of them sing. Sometimes they walk in clusters, arms held up and squared to frame their heads. Sometimes they dance boldly in unison, arms and legs flung freely yet precisely, bodies fluent. Small Mao Arata—often part of a trio with Shirai and Hiroko Nuihara—is uncannily beautiful; she can drop suddenly to the ground as if folding into soft earth.

Semioticians could have a field day with this work. Calling it surreal, however, may help invoke its aura of desolation and richly eccentric life.