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Jack Anderson

Japanese Fog

Hiroshi Koike: "Ship in a View"
Pappa Tarahumara
Next Wave Festival
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
November 28, 30, December 1, 2007 (closed)
Info.: (718) 636-4129
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, December 2, 2007

Fog occasionally filled the stage in Hiroshi Koike's "Ship in a View" which, as performed by his company, Pappa Tarahumara, was most effective when it conjured up the strangeness of life in a remote Japanese seaside community.

Its citizens lived amid some chairs, an overturned bicycle, and a tall pole resembling a mast. A miniature ship sailed across the gloomy stage. On shore, an apparently troubled woman stretched out her arms, a couple danced forlornly, as if in a deserted dance hall, and people in dark coats designed by Koji Hamai and Ryoichi Isomoto gathered, as if reacting to a maritime disaster, for the choreography contrasted tense slow movements with urgent runs. Ocean sounds infiltrated Masahiro Sugaya's humming taped score, which was punctuated by eerie wordless vocalisms by the dancers themselves.

Although the production was Japanese, its sense of alienation and melancholy in an indifferent universe recalled some of Ingmar Bergman's films. When dancers faced upstage as a slim band of golden light started ascending the backdrop, they might have been watching a sunrise. But this sun soon set.

Koike's stage pictures often had a bleak grandeur. But as more and more things kept happening, these changes, instead of arousing greater interest, tended to tax one's powers of attention because they were so miscellaneous. The score introduced noises recalling accelerating train wheels. There was a joyless drinking scene. Planks were assembled into objects resembling schoolroom desks, refectory tables, and work tables at which people moved with synchronized assembly-line gestures.

Certain images were potent. Dancers climbed and dangled from the mast which at various times became a pole flying a flag, then a lighthouse with a glowing beacon. The ship sailed back across the stage. Lights descended like slowly falling stars. Dancers circled two seated doll-like figures, one with a flickering television screen for a head.

Koike, although inventive, never quite made "Ship in a View" a consistently interesting evocation of something or other. But what was that something? Statements in the company's press kit said that he was inspired by the way his home town had changed from a fishing village into an industrial city. Knowing that information illuminated certain bits of otherwise baffling action. Yet if Koike had shown such urban development literally, his work might have become choreographic sociology, losing much of its haunting mystery.

Perhaps, by lasting slightly more than 90 minutes, "Ship in a View" was simply too long. But it if had been shorter, audiences might have felt theatrically cheated. And what sort of a piece could it be paired with on a double-bill?

The problems with which Koike grappled here are faced by any choreographer for whom rich dramatic atmosphere is more significant than simple dramatic narrative. Considering how striking many of Koike's fogbound scenes were, they are problems worth facing and somehow solving for, provided it is not encountered under annoying circumstances, fog can be beautiful.

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