SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS

Japanese double bill of differences

Passage On Blur, featuring Tsuyoshi Shirai and Yugo Morikawa (above), captivates with its simplicity, while Chie Ito's The Daily Life of Ms. D (left) is an explosion of manga kitsch.
Passage On Blur, featuring Tsuyoshi Shirai and Yugo Morikawa (above), captivates with its simplicity, while Chie Ito's The Daily Life of Ms. D is an explosion of manga kitsch.PHOTOS: KEVIN LEE
Passage On Blur, featuring Tsuyoshi Shirai and Yugo Morikawa (above), captivates with its simplicity, while Chie Ito's The Daily Life of Ms. D (left) is an explosion of manga kitsch.
Passage On Blur, featuring Tsuyoshi Shirai and Yugo Morikawa, captivates with its simplicity, while Chie Ito's The Daily Life of Ms. D (above) is an explosion of manga kitsch.PHOTOS: KEVIN LEE

One unabashed, the other understated, the works show that Japanese contemporary dance straddles East and West

By turns discombobulating and breathtaking, the last of the Singapore International Festival of Arts' Dance Marathon performances at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station is a double bill of differences.

Simple and elaborate, loud and quiet, unabashed and understated, the programme reveals Japanese contemporary dance as one that straddles the cultures of the East and West.

Chie Ito's The Daily Life of Ms. D is an explosion of manga kitsch, with an inordinate number of props in bubblegum shades, all adorned with red lips. These keep the titular character company at home, going about her daily life as though in a drug-induced dream.

She is perhaps Ms Ditzy, Delusional or Desperate, qualities which she exhibits in this glimpse into her world, or the fantastic mind of her creator.

As a middle-aged performer, Ito's physicality is compelling to watch as her movement, while laced with caution, reaches towards spontaneity. She becomes like a baby all over again, staggering to find her balance.

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    Tanjong Pagar Railway Station / Last Friday

The surprises, including a huge inflatable dinosaur and a Dracula character, grow tiresome after a while and it is unclear if Ito intended for these to be more than surprises. The work also suffers from an indecision about the audience's role - voyeurs feasting on a mad-house spectacle or spectators to an absurd circus.

In stark contrast, Passage On Blur is virtuosic in its simplicity, it captivates almost without warning.

Tsuyoshi Shirai and Yugo Morikawa bring life back to the old railway platform with a suave minimalism, calling to mind the subtlety of the traditional Japanese concept of sabi.

They are like two buskers, two travellers waiting for a train and above all, two bodies connected by music. One is slickly clad in a waistcoat, the other in pyjamas; one plays a fancy electric guitar, and the other a classical one.

Shirai evinces a boyish cheekiness, wielding his guitar like a violin, then as a golf club and a pillow. He dances with fluidity, coolly stringing everyday gestures together like pearls on a necklace. His body is like a puzzle of slinky toys, distending and dislocating to astonishing effect.

Setting a loop machine in play, Morikawa juxtaposes guitar chords with percussive taps. The sound of traffic zooming past serves only to amplify the haunting zither-like sounds his strumming produces.

Shirai's face is not overtly expressive but his body conveys a myriad of emotions. It is heartbreaking to see him recede into the depths of the platform and heartening when he snaps out of his fitful state.

Throughout the piece, there is a gripping synergy that sits on the brink of fragility and tenacity. When dance and music meet in such an organic union, there is a tranquil harmony that arises, transforming them both.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2015, with the headline 'Japanese double bill of differences'. Print Edition | Subscribe