Theater archives

Playing Around


Watching Kota Yamazaki’s latest work is like having one of those days when you can’t concentrate on anything for long, and everything you try gets short-circuited, and suddenly you remember what you should have been doing instead of what you are doing. Which is?

A year after Yamazaki—trained in both butoh and ballet in his native Japan—relocated to New York in 2001, he founded a new company and called it Kota Yamazaki/Fluid hug-hug. The fluidity and the new experiences he sought have led him to collaborative work in Senegal, Denmark, Singapore, and Australia. The two dances that he showed on the opening program of the five-week 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Festival are indeed slippery—full of non sequiturs, red herrings, and mysterious shifts of tone. Beguiling images float to the surface and disappear. Succinctness morphs into an orgy of run-on sentences.

We can presume that Janet Charleston, Jean Freebury, and Mina Nishimura represent in some way the months of the title April-May-June, and that may be why they pursue their independent paths without meeting, until the final moments when they bond into unison as, I guess, Spring. As it begins, Freebury is supine, Charleston swaying dreamily, and Nishimura pulling herself out of a drooping stance into gallop. The music (Willits and Ryuchi Sakamoto) jolts, then ratchets up a notch. It’s entertaining to watch these very adroit dancers move about the stage, performing such actions as scratching the head slowly (Nishimura), crying “eeeeee!” or maybe “meeee! (Charleston), or freezing in a lunge, open-mouthed Freebury, but the piece seems like a prelude to something more developed.

On this program, it’s a prelude to Yamazaki’s Picnic for six male dancers, including, briefly, himself. He has said that this revision of a 1997 work was inspired by the ambience of New York nightclubs (presumably ones catering to a gay crowd), where strangers may mingle, dance, and enjoy a brief sense of community before wandering off into the night. The notion of picnic is ephemeral. In the beginning, the white cloth spread on the floor holds a video of clouds or water, and only at the end do the men gather round it as if a meal is actually going to happen. Only once does someone sit at the token table with a wine bottle on it, and the suspended metal ladder barely merits a glance.

Some of the strongest passages appear early on. Ryoji Sasamoto and Tomohiko Tsujimoto sit side by side on the floor and play games with their legs. Bill Manka arrives warily, wearing shades, and then bursts, whooping, into some fine gangly dancing. Masanori Hoshika makes his small, nimble body ripple, and the others stare while he scootches along like an inchworm. When Michel Kouakou joins this gathering, some boisterous, athletic partnering starts up. There’s an atmosrpheric score by Masahiro Sugaya, plus some pop tunes, and changeable, but not drastically clubby lighting by Amandsa K. Ringger.

The men race and stagger about, having a good time. Occasionally one, notably Tsujimoto, takes off in a solo of improbable undulations. Sasamoto is temporatily king of the dance floor with his rapid jerks and twitches. They butt together to form a chain, gibber in a kind of chorus line, pile up, poke fun at one another. Manka speaks words that are inaudible over the music while he shivers and reaches toward some unknown goal. He also drives Yamazaki away, after everyone has paid attention to the choreographer’s slithery solo.

But after a while it begins to seem as if we’re just watching a lot of messing around by some undeniably charming guys from diverse cultures. And then some more messing around. I find myself wondering how much of Picnic is improvised and where it’s leading and when this club is going to close for the night.