Kokoro Dance's Life is as intense as the real thing
A Kokoro Dance production. At the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on Wednesday, October 8. Continues until October 12
Strings run thick through Kokoro Dance’s latest, reflective work. They dangle in curtainlike fringes from the ceiling in textile artist Kai Chen’s sculptural sets. They swirl, pluck, and interweave in Lee Pui Ming’s atmospheric score. And they work as a larger metaphor for the strands of life, which the seven-member troupe embodies in seemingly endless, hypnotic gesture and contortion.
Veteran Kokoro choreographers and dancers Barbara Bourget and Jay Hirabayashi have created a sometimes frantic, often dreamlike ode to aging, loss, and the extremes of living. Butoh-like, the white-caked dancers dressed in gauzy, fade-dyed tunics, raise their limbs fetally from the floor, freeze their faces in primal grins and silent screams, and huddle together hunched over. At one particularly intense moment, Hirabayashi runs back and forth at the audience, waggling his tongue and maniacally waving his hands—a cathartic expression of what? Desire? Rage? Insanity? Just being overwhelmed? Dance like this gets at feelings we don’t even have words for.
Some of the most successful sequences fulfill the possibility of Chen’s giant string sculptures. In the opening, while the others move through the motions of life at his side, Hirabayashi stays slowly imprisoned in a circle of strands that he eventually twists, and then, much later, watches helplessly as it lifts away from him, just out of reach. At another moment, bald, pale faces poke surreally out of the strands at us. And Hirabayashi and his long-time partner move on either side of a different set of strands, reaching through the stringy wall to touch, then separate again into different worlds. It becomes a powerful symbol for how two souls connect and break apart over the course of a lifetime.
Beyond the strings, there is more flowing, dancerly patterning to this piece than in many other Kokoro works—balletic even when the movement is butoh-awkward, a rush of bodies in space. The dancers, including Billy Marchenski, Deanna Peters, Jennifer McKinley, Molly McDermott, and Carolyn Chan, are uniformly committed and intense. Their arc moves toward transcendence and peace, into Gerald King’s dappled light, perhaps beyond “life” itself.
However the overall impression is of a wild mix of what Macbeth called sound and fury—grief, ecstatic joy, struts and frets. Taken on a purely rational level, this work could come off, at worst, as unfocused and cryptic. But if the various strands of Life sometimes seem random and chaotic, well—that’s kind of like life, isn’t it?