Friday, May 12, 2017

Koma Otake honors his ghosts at Danspace Project

Master dancer Koma Otake performs
the final section of his solo, The Ghost Festival,
outside St. Mark's Church, May 11.
All photos ©2017, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

all photos ©2017, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Using a mobile trailer, Koma creates an interactive visual art installment, as well as a performance space. The design, paintings, and choreography, have all been created or set by Koma himself. Only through performance and the presence of his body in relation to the set does The Ghost Festival truly come to form. Koma envisions The Ghost Festival as a meditative and communal space to honor the connection between past and present, and provide a home for lost spirits.
--from publicity for The Ghost Festival by Koma Otake 

The legends surrounding St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery--home of legendary Danspace Project--include hauntings by its 17th Century builder, Peter Stuyvesant, Secretary-General of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, who is entombed in the church's east wall. But now dance artist Koma Otake has raised other shades at St. Mark's with The Ghost Festival, his first multidisciplinary project without Eiko Otake, his wife and long time creative partner. Although not entirely without Eiko!

If you showed up at St. Mark's at 7pm to catch a five-minute preview in the little park outside the church, you'd catch a glimpse of Eiko ladling cool water onto Koma's naked but bandaged back as he crouched and bent into a trailer painted with his art and bearing a shallow pool of water in which a stand of candles float and glisten.

This mysterious preview is almost unbearably poignant, especially when Eiko carefully closes the trailer's doors around Koma's still-crouching body. One thinks of the foot injury that kept this master dancer from performing for nearly a decade and set the stage for Eiko's well-honored solo projects. It is wonderful to see Koma again. The image he presents carries dimensions of sacredness and of sadness. Of course, isn't that almost a definition of what Eiko and Koma have always done--together or apart?

Inside the church, shortly after 8pm, the performance proceeds like an offering to the spirit of Pina Bausch, an early influence on Eiko and Koma, especially heard in the Francisco Canaro milongas and tangos that fill most of the soundtrack, music that brings to mind Bausch's signature dance-theater. Butoh's genius, Kazuo Ohno, is also here, for sure, from Koma's legacy, but I do not think I am wrong to see Charlie Chaplin peeking impishly from behind an invisible curtain.

How is it possible that I have never truly focused on Koma before The Ghost Festival? How is it that I find myself now smitten by this dancer when, before, I was merely impressed? He is heartbreaking. He is sexy. He is coy and elfin and sly. His unkempt cascade of hair and soft, pliable form are illuminations. He is rumpled, dusty, disheveled, musty, imprecise as a branch in the wind that carries a current of feeling. He is one with the props that surround him, folding his entire slim and yielding body over a chair stacked with black pillows, his legs splayed behind him. He is an irresistible performer. All of this must come from the love he offers these predecessors in dance. Koma is radiant with this love for performance and performers; as the piece opens with Jacques Brel's Ne Me Quitte Pas, he seems to plead for even the shadow of their presence to stay and never leave him.

In the spirit of "every goodbye ain't gone," Koma's "festival" does not end despite an assistant parading around the space with a sign that reads "Finale." We're given a fifteen-minute break, mainly to pick up our belongings and move outside the church. (People lagged a bit; it was a chilly evening.) Once assembled, we heard the strains of a Japanese folk song--one perhaps related to traditional celebrations of the departed--and Koma emerged in flowing white to engage with his intriguing trailer/temple, at one point mounting it and generally behaving like the sort of looney you rarely see anymore around this East Village neighborhood. It was fun to watch unsuspecting folks walk by and check out our crowd and Koma's commotion.

With lighting by the legendary Kathy Kaufmann

The Ghost Festival continues through Saturday with performances at 8pm as well as free 5-minute public previews, open to all, at 7pm outside St. Mark's Church. For information and tickets, click here.

Danspace Project
St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery
2nd Avenue and 10th Street, Manhattan

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