Directed by Natsuko Yonezawa. Produced by Chenoeh Miller. A Belco Arts Production. The Theatre. Belconnen Arts Centre. October 1-2 2020.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
Choreographer Natsuko Yonezawa stands in a long red dress with her back to the audience, seated on either side of a long piece of black plastic sheeting that reflects the front row of the audience at MESS, a Butoh inspired exploration of the agony of solitude and isolation. Her limbs move slowly awakening a sense of identity and mystery. At either end of the long floorcloth stand piles of white boxes, randomly heaped as bookends to the scene. Lights fade and in the darkness Yonezawa is gone and replaced by composer and live musician Marlene Claudine Radice and the soulful solitary sound of the clarinet. It is the cry of longing, echoing through the darkness, a captivating and mesmerising note of enticement. We are drawn into a suspended world of hypnotic fascination.
Two figures enter the space, a woman (Miriam Slater ) and a man (Christopher Samuel Carroll) pacing the floor, expressionless, drawn inexorably along a path, possessed and compelled to chart a pre-determined journey, the traverse of the lonely traveller. On clarinet and percussion Radice offers a haunting accompaniment along with the jarring strident sweep of the bow across the strings of Yonezawa’s violin. Linda Buck’s lighting creates a disoriented landscape across byrd’s set, enticing the dancers to strive for meaning and identity in their singular existence.
Yonezawa’s choreography is meticulous, probing the dance of darkness that is Butoh. An audience watches the struggle in fascination, absorbed by the artistry and skill of the performers as they struggle with their tormented solitude, desperately striving to make contact with meaning, obsessed by their pain, physically galvanized with contorted shock by the demons within. Butoh is often defined as the struggle to break free by the force that exists between the flesh and the bone. It possesses the individual, desperately seeking to release the anguish that is born of the need to discover identity and to know oneself, free of the pain that prohibits understanding. Carroll and Slater inhabit the pain. We see the tortuous movements as they struggle to release the demon. We see it in their eyes, in their compulsive electrifying gesture and their urgent panic to cling to security. The tower of boxes like pillars of an ancient edifice offer some purpose, only to be destroyed. A moment of connection releases confusion and is soon abandoned. Hope of connection is stifled by the hopelessness of any resolution to their isolation. All that remains is the familiarity of separation, the void in human connection and the return to solitary identity.
MESS is magnificently conceived, combining the elements of music, soundscape, lighting and performance in an intimate traverse setting. Butoh confronts, shocks and challenges audiences to search for meaning, dare to interpret and discover empathy through the pain of the performers’ predicament. For an audience willing to face the confrontation, the dance can lead to epiphany.
Producer, Chenoeh Miller, suggests in the programme that the audience allows the performance to wash over them. Perhaps the company could have helped those unfamiliar with the convention by providing some guidance of what to look for so that the forty five minutes can make each moment a fulfilling journey of discovery.
There is purpose to the repetition of sound and movement. There is meaning in the slow separation of limb, reaching a crescendo of contortion. There is comprehension in the symbolism, and all art is faced by the challenge of communication that leads to understanding and identification. Mesmerising though it was for the most part, perhaps the performance could have been shorter.
Belco Arts, programmed by Chenoeh Miller and Sammy Moynihan is establishing itself as an exciting new initiative in the impressive Belconnen Arts Centre Theatre where audiences can be challenged, stimulated and introduced to new and exciting work. At the time of Covid 19 it is gratifying to witness work of the quality of MESS that takes risks and challenges audiences to view art through fresh eyes.