Friday, May 15, 2009

Japan's Umeda in black & white

Tokyo's celebrated Hiroaki Umeda opened his production--Hiroaki Umeda: Solo dance, light, sound & video--last evening at Japan Society. If that title sounds pedestrian and unwieldy--and it does--it is, nevertheless, completely accurate. The talented soloist has created all aspects of both works in the show and considers each of these aesthetic elements to be the equal of every other.

In the roughly 20-minute-long Adapting for Distortion (US premiere), Umeda turns himself into a human barcode, initially standing still while sharp, parallel lines are projected against his body and the darkened stage. Gradually, he introduces a twist here, a dip there, and there a tilt or a roll of the head. He builds these subtle movements into cool, minimalist, high-tech hip hop while piercing, grating electronic sounds accompany changes in the patterns of the lines of light, ending with a pulsating grid. It should be no surprise that Umeda was a photography student before succumbing to dance, late, at the age of 20.

Umeda's body and remarkably smooth dancing are easier to see and appreciate in Accumulated Layout (New York premiere), although, here, he once again plays unconventional games with light and darkness. At the opening, he's rooted in place, holding his shoulders stiffly as if they were a tilted hanger dangling his clothes at an angle. He lets his arms go crazy (or Krazy!, as Japan Society might have it).

Umeda has made of dance a total theater under the control of his photographer's eye. He certainly has new tricks to teach American hip hop dancers seeking fresh ways to translate their skills to the concert stage.

Hiroaki Umeda: Solo dance, light, sound & video concludes Japan Society's Beyond Boundaries: Genre-Bending Mavericks series tonight and tomorrow at 7:30. Click here for information and ticketing.

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