Contemporary Dance Showcase, Japan Society, New York

The work can be rough at the seams, but you can count on this quirky annual showcase to present a more specific vision of contemporary Japan than BAM, the Joyce or Lincoln Center – all on the global circuit. Either deliberately or because they do not know any better, these young choreographers are refreshingly, if sometimes untranslatably, local.

Kentaro!!’s song-and-dance troupe Tokyo Electrorock Stairs is typically urban Japanese in its absorption and refashioning of American exports – in this case, gangsta hip-hop. In Send It, Mr. Monster four dancers executed cocky hand signals and low-slung, crisscrossing steps with that unlikely mix of bounce and emotional flatness that characterises Hello Kitty, big-eyed animé heroines and even Murakami novels. In a solo moment, rubber-limbed clown Kentaro!!’s air of exhaustion and insouciant fatalism added a subtle layer to the flat surface.

Mechanised businessmen and the old-man babies of Japan’s butoh dance form have appeared regularly in this showcase, but until now not in the same dance. Secret Honey Room began with choreographer Makoto Enda’s “a businessman gets dressed” solo: a whirlwind of suit, tie and unco-operative limbs. Soon Kumotaro Mukai’s white-faced imp rolled onstage on a tiny squeaky-wheeled tricycle to complicate matters, though not enough. These Japanese archetypes – upright harried citizen versus primordial folkspirit frozen in embryonic incompleteness in the wake of Hiroshima and western-style progress – needed common rhythmic ground to get entangled. Secret Honey Room only lurched and lulled between them.

Kosei Sakamoto’s Ash is Falling for his troupe Monochrome Circus was more purely apocalyptic. Like butoh, Japan’s number one dance export, it moved wholly in slow motion, but without the element of the grotesque – the crossed eyes and recoiling, gnarled limbs. Minimally dressed, four dancers travelled upstage and down in poignantly individual variations on moves that could resemble slanting oceanside trees or sea lions floating on the waves. Balanced between movement and paralysis, Ash is Falling occasionally achieved a tragic hypnotic beauty.

As for Anarchy Dance Theatre’s Seventh Sense – in which the new-media team Ultra Combos’ motion-sensitive, Escher-like computer designs swept across floor and walls at the two dancers’ every run and tumble – it did not seem like a piece made in Japan, where modern dance maintains a consistently countercultural, low-tech profile, and it wasn’t. It was made in Taiwan.

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