Puzzlingly Trueby Beatrice Barbareschi
More than a congruent theatrical piece, the dance and technology fusion entitled True, performed this November at Japan Society, feels like an extra-ordinary series of events in which light, sound, objects, and movement all perform with the same force. Yes, the piece does have a narrative of sorts: something about the incredible adventures of an “ordinary man” in the deceitfully familiar space reminiscent of an office. Yet it is hard to make sense of this at once puzzling and sophisticated piece.
True is the result of a collaboration between three cutting-edge Japanese artists: lighting designer Takayuki Fujimoto and performer Takao Kawaguchi—both from the multimedia performance collective Dumb Type—and Tsuyoshi Shirai, a choreographer/dancer and video artist. For this project, the three were interested in investigating how people construct their realities and push the concept of truth. The show, however, is more successful in creating beautiful images and unexpected relationships between dancers and technology than in developing an understandable meditation on the relativity of truth. In one of the most striking scenes of the piece, for instance, the circular lighting structure on the ceiling of the stage creates a cannon of light that makes the performers’ shadows move in circles around them as they dance. It is a little like watching a documentary that shows plants growing surprisingly fast, as the sun repeatedly moves over them in sped up days and weeks. In this scene, the performers suddenly inhabit a different time/space continuum from the one in the audience—at once a spectacular and poetic effect, and an interesting combination of live dance and lighting technology.
There are other moments of wonder in True, such as when several pieces of a wooden table suddenly drop to the floor to become small cylindrical islands spaced a hop away from each other so that Shirai can use them to keep his feet from touching the stage. And there is the visually powerful “red raincoat dance” in which, depending on the lighting, the color of the raincoat worn by Shirai either screams out to us, or magically disappears in blue/gray hues. These and other scenes speak to the sophisticated visual design of the piece.
Overall, however, it is difficult to make sense of True, particularly as a Western audience member. The performance does not build on narrative, it defies emotional climaxes, and it dispenses with comprehensible structure. The relationship between the characters on stage is never clear, and the rhythm of the piece picks up and slows down several times, creating a couple of false endings, and leaving you wishing it were not so long. A more knowledgeable spectator, trained in what to me are the foreign rhythms and sounds of theatrical traditions such as Butoh, might be able to approach True with a perceptive awareness up to decoding the language of this performance. But what might be true for them remains puzzling to me.
Barbareschi is an MA student at NYU. pursuing experimental performance and dance.