African dance and butoh is an odd, but intriguing mix. Done with a deft hand, it could spawn a whole new dance technique, which would be a rare discovery indeed.
Certainly, choreographer Kota Yamazaki of the Japanese-based fluid hug hug deserves some credit for trying. But his “(glowing)” onstage this weekend at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, failed to unite these two diverse styles. In this evening-length piece, Yamazaki juxtaposed the rhythmic and explosive energy of African dance with meditative unfolding of butoh. They remained separate, distinct with only hints of African dance lurking in the muscles of butoh artists.
That would have been fine if “(glowing)” were not so painfully self-conscious. Because the work unwrapped itself in silence, every shuffle, lift of the arm or breath was amplified. Everything these six dancers did, for a 70-minute duration, felt too deliberate and mainly aimless. This was in part because there was no sound to form an atmosphere for the audience.
The dancers did create structure — by muddling into a line, a circle, or turning to stand with their backs to the audience — but without a destiny it all felt pointless.
To enjoy “(glowing)”, an audience must fall into a trance. Without that complete suspension, Yamazaki’s goal, to create the illusion of a floating landscape, was unattainable. Also, it was curious that he tapped into African dance, which is rooted in the weight of the dancer.
Actually, the whole thing was strange and untenable.
It began with Mina Nishimura, a lovely dancer, taking small sliding steps around the square — the defined space. Shiferaw Tariku, who specializes in Ethiopian dance, crouched in the far corner. With his head down, he moved toward Nishimura, awkwardly, on the balls of his feet. More dancers arrived and there was more slow walking, in silence. It continued like that for quite some time before the dynamic Marie Agnes Gomis appeared upstage. A tall Senegalese dancer, she commanded all eyes. But aside from an exhausting, ramped up solo, in which she pounded the ground with her feet, flailed her arms and tossed her head, she was not given a lot to do. Likely this was the case because Gomis was the antithesis of the others who tiptoed quietly.
Another compelling section had Tariku and Ryoji Sasamoto rhythmically stepping and breathing — lending the zombie dance, for a short spell, a heartbeat.
Two New York City-based dancers rounded out the cast of “(glowing).” While they balanced out the mix of performers, their roles were blandly incidental.
Near the end, the dancers deconstructed Robert Kocik’s crude set design of hanging four-by-fours. They dancers stood up the wood, like they were framing up a building. While it relieved the tedium for a brief moment, it did not juice up the dance. By then, interest in “(glowing),” if ever ignited, was long extinguished.