Dominic Walsh Choreographs to Japanese Mythology in Uzume

The setup:

This past weekend, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater presented the world premiere of Uzume, a collaboration with Asia Society Texas Center that showcased the talents of taiko master Kensaku Satou and DWDT staples Domenico Luciano and Hana Sakai.

The execution:

Uzume is inspired by the Japanese myth of how light was brought back into the world. When the storm god Susanowo wreaks havoc on the earth, his sister, the sun goddess Ameterasu, becomes distraught and hides herself inside a cave. There is no convincing Ameterasu to leave her sanctuary until she is captivated by a strange noise. The sound is Uzume, the goddess of the dawn, dancing madly on a wooden tub. Intrigued, Ameterasu leaves her cave, thus bringing light to the world of darkness. It's no wonder that Walsh has turned to this story for inspiration; in this narrative, it is dance that brings light to the world.

The movement is spellbinding. Luciano and Sakai emerge from the washi set design as if they were breathing life into inanimate matter. Their bodies in the opening sequence are mangled and disjointed, each gesture accented with force, each turn of the head punctuated by a spasmodic pulse. Luciano's long body is perfect for the classical maneuvers and familiar poses of ballet that make up half of Uzume's choregraphy. But his magnetism is also a result of his superb attention to detail; what he conveys with his fingers and hands is more than what many dancers are able to convey through their whole bodies.

One of the most exciting sequences is a solo by Sakai that requires her to bourree to the crescendos of the drum. While her feet move in rapid torrents, her upper body contracts and extends in unnatural, yet beautiful, shapes. She dances with verve and supernatural purpose, a swan possessed. The costume design intensifies the ballet/Japanese dance fusion of both Luciano and Sakai and masks the inherent strength of their performance. Moving across the tissue-papered stage, they give the impression of origami dancers set loose on restless wind.

Attention must be paid to the other half of this flawless equation. Taiko drummer Kensaku Satou is a whirlwind of a performer. Having no previous experience with taiko, I was under the assumption that a percussion form from Japan would be a meditative, zen-inducing affair. On the contrary, Satou's drumming was an invigorating, life-giving force that not only accompanied the dance, but shaped it.

Taiko, at least Satou's performance of it, encapsulates beat, rhythm and melody. During one pulsating sequence, his drumming had an almost jazzy, funky flair, and he played directly to the audience. In this supremely enjoyable moment, Satou could have been a New Orleans street performer. He certainly has the swagger to match, and a smile bright enough to power the entire Asia Society complex and then some.

The verdict:

Mesmerizing. Even if the particulars of the Uzume myth are forgotten, the performances of Luciano, Sakai and Satou will not be. Uzume is like every other Dominic Walsh production: not just a dance concert, but an experience to be cherished forever.

The performance took place this weekend at the Asia Society Texas Center.

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