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Art in motion

by Archives October 18, 2006

Montreal dance enthusiasts never cease to amaze me. After last week’s presentation of Sankai Juku’s Kagemi – Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors, I expected them to reserve a cold reception to this minimalist and demanding work. Instead, they rose to their feet and applauded warmly.

The event took place at Place-des-Arts, where the dance company from Japan first mesmerized crowds with its set – giant, white lotus flowers filled the stage.

A single dancer was present; his head was shaved, and his skin was completely painted and powdered in white. This was the case for all dancers in Kagemi. The abundance of whiteness grabbed our attention.

The movement of the dancer was excessively slow. When his solo was over, the flowers were lifted up above the stage to hang at the ceiling for the rest of the performance. This surreal moment of beauty could not have failed to impress.

The lifting of the lotus revealed six other dancers on stage, they had been lying under the flowers. Their movement was so minimalist, that even their fingers were dancing. This attention to detail captured the audience.

The movement was highly repetitive and, consequently, had a hypnotic effect. In fact, it was so slow that even the exits brought attention to themselves. At such a speed, synchronicity becomes impossible.

Coordination, however, becomes a lot more organic. Some questions arise from Kagemi – “Who are these white creatures? Are they human, animal, spirit?” The answer seems to be all three. After all, does this antagonism not ultimately represent the human condition?

Despite the slow pace of the show, the audience remained attentive. Even when the music sped up and one would have expected the movement to follow suit, the dancers were resilient in their commitment to slowness. They sometimes pointed in the distance, as if asking the audience to pay attention. To what? To nothing. To everything.

These creatures did progress towards transcendence as their animalistic inclinations subsided. One of the dancers moved towards a light and, later, others looked up to the sky. When the flowers came back down, the dancers remained on stage. Their hands rose above the lotus in the shape of flowers, as if they had become one with all life.

Even when the audience gave them a warm standing ovation, the dancers adamantly refused to break their rhythm to take a bow. They still moved at a snail’s pace. This was why the audience gave them such positive feedback.

One cannot help but feel the strongest admiration for choreographer Ushio Amagatsu’s unwillingness to answer to the rhythm of modern life.

Upon my exit from Place-des-Arts, I could not help but wonder if such a minimalist work risks self-containment. The answer came to me when I noticed that I was suddenly looking at the world around me differently.

I was consciously paying attention to the buildings, the sounds, the people. The power of Kagemi extends well beyond the stage and into our everyday life.

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