Yasuko Yokoshi at DTW

Yasuko Yokoshi’s work has long been engaged in questions around cultural authenticity and identity – as impacted in a mobile and fluid world where the merging of cultures is increasingly prevalent.  As an artist she has been called both “unruly” and “enigmatic,” revealing the thorny process of assessing her cultural bonds.  Her exquisite 2006 what we when we sheltered Raymond Carver’s spare and fundamentally American short stories in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love within the placid frame of Japanese traditional, Kabuki Su-Odori dance.

Su-Odori is the stripped down form of Kabuki dance, devoid of its intense costume make-up, and exaggerated gestures.  Yokoshi has now spent many years training with Masumi Seyama VI, the direct disciple of Kanjyuro Fuji who is celebrated for refining Su-Odori into its own art.  For her recent Tyler, Tyler at Dance Theater Workshop this past Wednesday – Saturday, she brought in three celebrated dancers from Japan including Kayo Seyama, a woman who has spent over 50 years assisting Masumi Seyama in preserving this traditional dance form and the witty Naoki Asaji.  While complemented well by his Japanese and NYC counterparts, Julie Alexander and Kayvon Pourazar, the night most often belongs to Kuniya Sawamura, a rising star of Kabuki.  From his first calculated stumble, while Alexander plays on a tiny, toy grand piano and sings in Japanese, we are being primed for the subtle refined amiguity that will play out over the course of the work.  This and the section that follows, with Asaji playing the mini piano and singing “every Sha-La-La-La-La, every Whoa-o-o-o” from the Carpenters Yesterday Once More complete with merged phonemes, serve as primers letting the audience in on the challenge and joke of cultural confusions.  There is a clash of cultures, there is a merging of mores, and while at moments light and delightful, it is never trite.

The evening allows a ruminations on large motor movements versus subtle refinements – when a 1-inch difference in arm posture is highly noticeable – or, considerations of what it means to command an audience’s attention in our ADHD landscape.   Through her engagement of a traditional Japanese performing art, Yokoshi voluntarily makes the deeply integrated nature of a Japanese aesthetic explicit in this work.  The concern towards order, beauty and a sophisticated type of subtlety is a deeply rooted component of Japanese society.  Almost any aspect of daily life can be enacted with conscious grace and can serve as opportunity for aesthetic satisfaction.  This aesthetic egalitarianism may bring attention to every aspect of even the seemingly most mundane activity.  But then, when in the midst of a minimal dance sequence and dramatic monologue about journeying “deeper and deeper into the snow,” Alexander states “but, what the hell… I’ve got to take this shit.”  In Yokoshi’s hands, extreme formality and today’s hyper-irony meet in the classic, medieval The Tale of Heike, and several other traditional repertories.  Under her direction, the pleasure of watching Pourzan and Sawamura dancing together – first in simultaneous solos and then in a partnered sequence – is potent.  They arrive at a cohesion that so often in cross-cultural collaborations falls flat.

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