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Henry Baumgartner

Kagemi: Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors


Sankai Juku in "Kagemi" at BAM. Photo by Jacques Denarnaud

Sankai Juku
Kagemi: Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors
Directed, choreographed, and designed by Ushio Amagatsu
Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
October 24, 26-29, 2006 (reviewed 10/24)

Sankai Juku: Who Is the Fairest One of All?

By Henry Baumgartner

A man covered in dusty-looking white paint stands on a round platform in front of a small forest of strange white flowerlike things; the rest is darkness and silence. Everything we see is either black or white. He is moving, slowly, elegantly, and we begin to hear music. We notice that the man is wearing bright red earrings. Many of his gestures involve curving his arm back into a sort of crescent shape. Slowly the flower-things--lotuses, I guess--begin to levitate, rising up into the air and floating there, roots hanging down overhead. Where they had been, we see now six more white-painted men, bent over.

The soloist here is Ushio Amagatsu, founder, director, and choreographer of the Japanese butoh company Sankai Juku and creator of "Kagemi: Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors," presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the Next Wave Festival. The title, which is close to the Japanese word for "mirror" (kagami), is explained by Amagatsu in a poem printed in the program: "The Kage of Kagemi is shadow/The light of contrast, the image in the mirror of water's surface/The mi is seeing and being seen." And indeed much of the imagery in the piece seems to involve mirrors and shadows, and the surface of water. A smooth black rectangle might be the surface of a body of water, with a smart little upturned corner to suggest, just barely, a wave. And yet those hanging lotuses are still up there, which suggest that we are, in fact, beneath the water's surface. At one point the dancers appear muddy and bedraggled; at another they seem to be draped in seaweed, but it's pure white seaweed. Occasionally the dancers confront each other symmetrically across the stage.

The piece is full of beautiful moments. Were those a bunch of ancient Egyptians dancing like musical automatons, as if on a Pharaonic music box? At other times I was reminded of flowers unfolding, of classic Greek figurines, of subaqueous life pullulating beneath the surface. In a way, Amagatsu seems like the Robert Wilson of butoh (or is it the other way around?). He gives us beautiful, exquisite stage pictures, which are sometimes more like tableaux vivants, but sometimes the emotional temperature is so low we fear life may have departed entirely. We are left contemplating aesthetically delightful but frigid and inhuman objects.



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