by Stephanie Rieke
Still contending with the loss of George Balanchine twenty-five years on the legendary choreographer and New York City Ballet founder died in 1983 the dance world tends to pin its hopes for fresh new ballets on a couple of European-American gentlemen. Setting aside the impossibility that anyone might live up to the Balanchine legacy, I'd vote for broadening out the pool and throwing in Noism's Jo Kanamori for consideration.
Kanamori, thirty-three, began dance training early with his father and subsequently studied with companies in Japan and Switzerland. His enviable experience in Europe also included stints with Nederlands Dans Theater II (for which he first choreographed), the Lyon Opera Ballet, and the Gothenburg Ballet. After returning to Japan, Kanamori founded Noism04 in 2004. (The name of the company changes with the year.)
On February 15, UMS presents Noism08 in NINA materialize sacrifice, a stunning piece of dance-theater, which premiered in 2005 in Niigata, Japan; Noism is the resident dance company at the City Performing Arts Center there. With choreography and lighting (just as critical, as you'll see) by Kanamori and music by Vietnamese-French composer Ton That An, NINA, with its techno-ballet sheen, is as watchable as it is occasionally disturbing.
If the age-old artistic debate of color versus design, or drawing, still holds any sway, you'd have to put Kanamori in the draftsman camp. His universe is a stark, maybe even sinister, study in contrasts, riddled with sharp angles and fluid lines. Yet to judge by his self-consciously futuristic, cinematic vision, he's eminently twenty-first century.
In NINA Kanamori sets up a postapocalyptic landscape with women as expressionless mannequins to be fair, the men in dark suits also lack color and emotion and minimal decor. If you're thinking Butoh, you're on the right track, but his is a post-Butoh sensibility fusing East and West, ballet and modern dance.
Early in the piece, a precise, balletic solo in a square of white light suggests a
stylized gymnastics floor routine; a second dancer joins in and they lean into each other like a couple of sumo wrestlers on a mat. Later, two men enact a loopy, snaky mirrored duet, leading to some kind of confrontation. At different times, the group circumnavigates the stage in a slow-motion shuffle, as if ice skating.
Kanamori also samples ballet history with refreshing irreverence. At one point I detected a whiff of pagan sacrifice, Á la The Rite of Spring; at another the perfume of a Romantic ballet pas de quatre, complete with Giselle-like long tutus. Throughout the piece, dancers enter and exit dramatically by picking up the backdrop.
I'd love to see a European or American ballet company stage NINA, or anything else by Kanamori. He gives globalism a good turn.
[Review published February 2008]