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DANCE REVIEW : 'Kaguyahime' Ascends to the Heights : Jiri Kylian's Nederlands Dans Theater Transforms a Theater . . . Literally

October 27, 1994|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE WRITER

COSTA MESA — Jiri Kylian's dance drama "Kaguyahime" is a tale of miracles and the first one is his transformation of the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

To house Kylian's 1988, two-act vehicle for Nederlands Dans Theater, the adjustable proscenium of Segerstrom Hall was opened on Tuesday as never before, to its maximum, 68-foot width.

Moreover, the scenic and lighting hardware above the stage were lowered into view, forming sculptural configurations and moving cloudlike formations in designer Michael Simon's epic tribute to the magic of the theater.

The score by Japanese composer Maki Ishii began with the distant whine of a flute, building over about 100 minutes to an onstage storm of galvanic taiko-style drumming by the 17-member Circle Percussion group before subsiding again. Conducted by Michael de Roo, it occasionally flirted with multicultural New Age platitudes, but mostly sustained an invigorating focus on rhythmic propulsion.

Conditioned by their constantly changing spatial and sonic environments, the 22 dancers in the cast nonetheless moved with the exhilarating technical freedom remembered from the company's last Southland visit, 14 years ago.

*

The director of Nederlands Dans Theater since 1975, Kylian is celebrated justly for fusing modern dance and ballet techniques. "Kaguyahime" affords many astonishing group passages in which the weighty, twisty angularity of contemporary motion suddenly heats up, accelerates and explodes into ballet-based jumps and air-turns.

The brilliance of this group dancing is another miracle of "Kaguyahime," though it often undercuts the downbeat message that Kylian is at pains to deliver. Based on a 10th-Century Japanese myth, his narrative involves a disastrously irresistible young woman who turns out to be supernatural: a moonbeam in human form.

Her presence in human society allows Kylian to comment on our compulsion to possess the unattainable, on sexual hostility and tribal hatred, on ecological exploitation and brute power at its most pitiless.

A moonbeam may seem much too delicate to stand up to all that malignant force, but in the most spectacular theatrical coup of the evening, she proves more than equal to the task:

Emerging from a huge, billowing canopy of golden silk, a character named the Mikado (Paul Lightfoot) ensnares and manipulates the distraught Kaguyahime (Fiona Lummis) until her submission or rape seem inevitable. But with a sudden tilt of upstage mirror-panels, a blinding, unearthly glare swallows up and neutralizes the Mikado once and for all. It also envelops everyone in the audience but, this time at least, we are allowed to survive.

You could argue that Kylian doesn't really tell the story clearly until this episode and that Kaguyahime's long ascension solo at the end is the weakest choreography of the evening. You might even complain that much of the spectacle is diversionary and that Kylian's dances for the warring social factions are just too kinetically overwhelming for us to ever consider what they're supposed to mean.

True enough, but "Kaguyahime" is much bigger than Kylian's expressive intentions. He wants to tell us that life is hopeless and human nature impossibly corrupt--but what we see is a theater of wonders and a company of superb artists sharing an ideal of human creation. Take your pick.

The choice is easy. Through the heartbeat of its drumming, the unstinting energy of its dancers and, yes, the inspired fervor of its choreography, "Kaguyahime" ends up life-affirming in spite of itself. And that may be the greatest miracle of all.

* Nederlands Dans Theater repeats "Kaguyahime" tonight at 8, then presents a five-part Kylian program on Friday and Saturday , as well as Sunday afternoon at 2. Tickets: $18 to $55. Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (714) 740-2000.

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