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Review: Dance Sankai Juku's hypnotic grace

Published on May 1, 2014 12:11 PM

There is no denying the hypnotic grace of Sankai Juku. The all-male troupe offers an uninterrupted 90 minutes of elegiac beauty that encapsulates all the visual characteristics of Butoh, a Japanese post-war expressionist movement style.

At the Esplanade Theatre on Wednesday, troupe founder and choreographer Ushio Amagatsu's Kagemi, a piece inspired by ikebana in the late 1970s which then germinated for 30 years, takes place on a striking stagescape of large lotus leaves. After an opening scene, the leaves are levitated and suspended from the ceiling, so that the subsequent action seems underwater. Ashen bald bodies creep across the dreamy gold-lit stage, which has one cleverly upturned corner to suggest unfinished business.

The work begins with a solo by Amagatsu, now 65, who seems to metamorphose into various shapes at a determinedly glacial pace. His every gesture is immaculate and deliberate. At times, he dances with his eyes closed, as though drunk in the moment.

Kagemi, meaning "to see one's shadow", might be part of the origin of the Japanese word for mirror, "kagami". With such a title, scenes playing with the notion of reflection abound in the work. Two dancers are pitched as symmetrical opposites, while another moves between them in another dimension. Flicking their wrists back and forth in the profiled stances of figures in an Egyptian frieze, they conjure a cloud of white powder with each abrupt gesture.

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