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Dance Review

An odyssey into soul

Butoh dancer Oguri is riveting in his focused performance at REDCAT.

August 01, 2009|Victoria Looseleaf

There's nothing like a live video feed to shatter perspective. And there's nobody like Oguri, locally based butoh dancer extraordinaire, to bring laser-like intensity to movement. Add antiphonal winds and stationary percussion, and you've got "N1," a 21st century take on the Narcissus myth. Seen at REDCAT on Thursday as part of the annual three-week multidisciplinary NOW (New Original Works) Festival, the 40-minute performance is a shadowy -- sometimes harrowing, sometimes amusing -- journey into the soul.

Calling the video shots -- literally -- is director/installation artist Carole Kim. Making Oguri loom large on the various layered projections one moment, refracting his limbs and torso the next, Kim creates a series of haunting images that bring Oguri into and out of sublime focus.

His Narcissus begins this terpsichorean odyssey in the rafters, where he peers at us from above: Simultaneously watching and being watched, Oguri kills any notion of reality. Heeding a siren call of music -- the mashed melodies of Dan Clucas, who roams an aisle of the theater blowing on flute, trumpet and other winds, and the resonating plunks pouring forth from Alex Cline's drums, chimes and gongs (he's situated above the audience) -- the pajama-clad dancer slows down time with an ever-so-slightly bobbing head. He also crouches, extends his arms into the abyss and lets out a silent scream.

Or is it a tacit titter? Whatever it is -- whatever he does -- is riveting.

Once onstage, Oguri responds to a Chet Bakeresque trumpet riff, the atmosphere more a smoke-filled jazz club, without the smoke, but plenty of mirrors in this moody house of fun and misery. A mass of kinetic DNA, Oguri thrashes and lunges amid the chaos of swirling video streams that now resemble doors, curtains, flames.

A portrait of staggering resilience, our hero walks in circles, Groucho-like, marches in squares, erect, as if being hitched up by his shoulders, all the while bouncing to an arrhythmic beat of his own making, the screechings of Clucas not so mellow anymore.

From darkness, Oguri finally emerges naked but for a thong, the sounds of wind chimes conjuring ghosts as he struggles in yet another landscape, this one harsh, desperate, bone-chillingly bleak, a small pool of light his home. Rising on his toes, he violently throws himself to the floor in a sequence of clumsy somersaults, the corporal thwacks achingly disconcerting.

Though the space is shrunken, Oguri's body is blown up through video. His silhouette becomes bigger than life, smaller than life, a life form veering from praying mantis-like creature to scorpion -- all arms and legs -- a death wish clashing with a life wish.

And then there is calm: The unsettling blackness is now a burst of stars; a gentle peace prevails. The journey -- sacred and profane -- ends in hushed silence.

Would that it have remained thus. Unfortunately, after an intermission, the program ended with a shockingly bad and irrelevant performance by Jennifer the Leopard. A so-called punk collective, this art house-wannabe quartet sang nonsense ditties (led by the cloying, tone-deaf Stephanie Hutin) and showed pretentious videos, one featuring keyboardist Lana Kim crying while stuffing her face with doughnuts.

Also cluttering the stage with 20 cheering friends and the drummer's parents (Lauren Fisher's father was actually holding his ears at one point), J-Lep, as the group is called, is not worthy of a REDCAT booking.

To program it with Oguri, a true artist, makes even less sense.

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