From esteemed Japanese director Hiroshi Koike and his dance-theater troupe Pappa Tarahumara comes “Ship In A View”, an ethereal spectacle that made its Bay Area premiere at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on February 19th. Drawing on memories of his Japanese seaside home, Koike creates a haunting dream that combines technical gimmicks–such as a small, dark vessel sailing across the stage; a ship’s propeller fan lowering from above the proscenium to fan a silk flag on a mast, a futuristic couple with computer screen heads, a horizon line of lights that rises up and down like shifts in sea level- -with dancers emerging from shadows, moving at the pace of Noh theater or breaking out into the chaotic improvised movement or choreographed flurries.
“Ship In A View” is a hypnotic remembrance of Koike’s seaside town: a dreamscape where vignettes small and large – – a woman calling out to sell soybeans, a brewing storm, factory workers on an assembly line that double as school kids raising their hands in response – -create a ghostly ritual of remembering, of both connecting to and separating from the past.
With its strong analogies to the sea and predominance of grey hues in the form of fog, smoke, the steel grey saturation of stage lighting to the gun grey to sea grey frocks of costumes, the audience is drawn into a visually seductive dream full of promise and silent apprehension. Will “Ship In A View” end revealing no more than the cool empty grey space it occupied at the beginning? Will it roll on as anti climatic as the lapping of waves, the way Japanese cinema often seems to Westerners?
Created in 1997 and maintaining several of its original dancers, “Ship in a View” pushes and pulls like a vague rip tide – edited, unedited, improvised, choreographed, reworked and revisited – for one hour and thirty minutes without intermission. Dancers fill the stage like random driftwood, like a flock of seagulls moving in unison, or as forceful waves crashing against a jetty. They eat, smoke, pour water over their heads like climatic sexual fluids, slap, push, chant, roll, pirouette, walk, dance solo with a headless Victorian doll, set up props, take them away, light themselves with fluorescent tubes – or sit (as one man does) solo in a wood chair Zen-like – unmoving as an antique photograph of a Japanese ancestor.
In the tradition of Noh Theater their facial expressions are a significant part of the choreography as is the intensity of gesture. Yet, departing from this style are arbitrary vocals, almost Celtic chants – ala Meredith Monk – or melodic lullabies that dancers randomly perform live while acting or dancing. With the aid of sophisticated sound technology, the vocalist/dancers trick us into thinking that their haunting cries are pre recorded. The sound is too crisp, especially from that corner of the stage, the voices too articulate to be – live – with movement, and yet, it is live – as both magic and chaos continue.
Fortunately for both audience and the piece itself, “Ship In A View” gradually builds to a transcendental climax, when a shower of individual light bulbs descends upon the stage in a grid of rain. Ascending through this slow descending shower of lights, lying flat as a corpse on top of a modern sarcophagus, a dancer is drawn heavenward by four cables. The man from the wood chair –the stoic ancestor –, who sat rigid in one position throughout most of the performance, now walks like a breeze-blowing mist under a downpour of lights. The visual is pure, devastatingly beautiful… waking the audience from its dream, a dream that was never theirs.