Mannequins and Masturbators

Japanese Contemporary Dance Showcase, Program A
Kim Itoh and the Glorious Future (Dead and Alive: Body on the Borderline)
Noism 07 (NINA materialize sacrifice – 1st part)
Joyce Theater, New York
January 17, 2007

by Tom Phillips
copyright 2007, Tom Phillips

Kim Itoh has been called the “bad boy of butoh,” and the label seems to fit. He begins “Dead and Alive: Body on the Borderline” with his back to the audience, hunched in a fetal position in a long white robe with a dark hood over his head. In the distance, dimly lit, is a cluster of three naked men, each with one hand over his genitals and the other covering his face. To a distant strain of some 19th century romantic symphony, the naked men begin to move, crossing the stage at an ant’s pace, spreading out with tiny, barely perceptible steps. Itoh struggles to his feet, then collapses again. Finally he rises to kneel, and makes his way across the stage on his knees in a horizontal ribbon of red light, while the three naked men revolve slowly in the background like statues on pedestals. This glacial crossing takes at least five minutes and has the quality of living sculpture. It evokes some prehistoric evolutionary sequence, or threshold of human consciousness.  Then the fun begins.

Faces are revealed as Itoh takes off his hood, and the men remove their hands from their faces and grab their penises with both hands. This produces an intense feeling, they find, and the feeling builds. They respond with bends, spasmodic jerks and kicks, jolted into consciousness of life. Then they run away, maybe to play with their new toys, or find some friends.
On his feet now, Itoh reaches higher, rising to his toes and extending his parallel arms to the sky. The solid, square parallel position is not that of a ballet dancer, but more like a boy on his tiptoes, growing. He explores the space, and in the end once again we see his back, which somehow is as expressive as any face, but more universal in form. He’s rooted in the floor, in the earth, stretching for the ceiling and the sky.  That’s it. The other three boys come back giggling for the curtain call. 

If there’s a fundamental difference between Japanese and western dancers, it’s probably their connection to the floor, the downward impetus of their energy, and also the drama they draw out of stillness and slow movement. That was also evident in the other company on the program, Noism 07, but here in the context of western dance techniques. Choreographer Jo Kanamori, trained in Europe, begins with classical ballet, but with a powerful thrust into the floor, and long pauses, freezes and blackouts for effect. His piece was a sometimes violent multiple pas de deux for five men in black and five women in off-white. The theme is a kind of formal brutalization in the relationship of the sexes. Both men and women can dance freely only when the opposite sex is absent. At all other times it’s a struggle between mobsters and mannequins.  Toward the end the women make a bid to loosen their bonds, pushing the men back and advancing toward the audience like an army, with a powerful inside ronde de jambe. But in the end the males re-assert their power, crushing the women to the floor in the missionary position, except for one pair who remain seated, and who are then menaced by the whole gang as the lights go out. The ugly theme was redeemed by the remarkable strength and agility exhibited by every one of the company members as they went through their contortions. The mannequins were extraordinarily still and stiff, and stayed that way as they were manhandled by their thug companions. This piece got much more applause than Itoh’s more subtle offering, including a standing ovation from a few women who may have been moved by its feminist fight theme. To me, it was an excellent dancing show, and a discouraging view of sexual politics in the Land of the Rising Sun. 

First: Kim Itoh and "The Glorious Future"
Second: Noism.

Volume 5, No. 4
January 22, 2007

copyright ©2007 Tom Phillips

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