Impressions of Abarukas Presents "No Man is An Island"
At Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center in DUMBO
January 24th, 2pm
Choreography: Yoshito Sakuraba
Performed by: Alex Tenreiro Theis, Alexander Olivieri, Allie Kronick, Grace Whitworth, Lizzy Zevallos, Rachel Secrest, Rebecca Quintrell, Sean Nederlof
Sound: Iggy Hung
Costumes: Shay Bares
Lighting: Zach Blane
Japanese-American choreographer Yoshito Sakuraba’s company name is his last name spelled backward: Abarukas. He displays this fascination with structure in his latest full-length work, No Man is an Island, which premiered on January 23rd at Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center in DUMBO. While the content could stand some editing, Sakuraba’s technical skill and versatile company keep the work afloat.
No Man is an Island unspools a complex narrative that features swiftly changing alliances and relationships. While attempting to derive significance from this plot is frustrating, several driving themes may be extracted from it. The work’s title reflects the most obvious: the struggle of the individual against the group.
Memorable echoing images punctuate this theme of isolation versus assimilation. The dancers form a straight line as one person faces backward, and they entangle themselves into a knot with one on the outside. Sometimes individuality seems favorable; other times the outcast appears lonely and ostracized.
The costuming gives us vague clues as to Sakuraba's plot: two dancers in navy blue are singled out as unlike the others (everyone else wears alien-like silver vests). However, the work doesn’t play favorites. Sakuraba highlights the eight stunning cast members. Alex Theis catches the eye with her expansive, powerhouse solos. Lizzy Zevallos, who showcases a grounded maturity, assimilates with the group when she switches costumes, a transformation of apparent significance to the story.
While the otherworldly costumes and an eerie soundscape suggest a science-fiction-like environment, No Man is an Island feels distinctly urban. We sense the influence of Sakuraba’s life in New York City. The contrast of aggressively robotic movement with softer, more introspective material relates the struggle to maintain sensitivity in a city where a strong coat of armor is the best defense.
Sakuraba's movement fuses the gestural intricacy of hip hop with the challenging exactitude of ballet and the grounded expansiveness of modern dance. The technical prowess of the entire company is superb: Off-balance turns freeze on a dime, and sky-high extensions are contrasted by space-eating floor-work.
Elaborate duet work makes abundant use of negative space. Disparate body parts lock together like puzzle pieces; an elbow fits into the curve of a neck while splayed fingers trace the outline of bodies.
An aggressive undertone surfaces in exaggerated gestures. A female halts center stage in a lewd pose, grabbing her crotch and leering at the audience for an uncomfortable amount of time in a moment of questionable relevance. A male dancer crouches downstage left; his head is bowed, but his two middle fingers thrusting high in the air speak a clear message.
Moments of campy humor seem incongruous to the serious tone. In a comical imitation of a music video, a lone hooded figure breaks the forth wall, selecting an audience member and mouthing the lyrics of Massive Attack’s “Angel” to her. We expect this to become poignant, but the interaction never finds resolution.
In spite of the meandering storyline, the work is structurally satisfying. Counterpoints in impeccable formations please the eye. Defined, tightly knit unison work renders the group as a morphing amoeba. The work begins and ends with a lone figure standing in a spotlight downstage left.
No Man is an Island has elements of a great piece of dance. Sakuraba clearly has acuity as a choreographer plus an asset in his skilled company. However, when it comes to content, it feels like Sakuraba throws us puzzle pieces without the tools to piece them together. Many of his artistic decisions seem arbitrary. There’s enough that make this work worth seeing, but Sakuraba would benefit from cutting some fat to get to the heart of his premise.
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