Dancing in the shadow of your counterpart ****

from: Theaterkrant 30/1/2013

Shirokuro plays off extremes against one another: darkness against light; sound against silence; playful humour against rigidity. The Japanese title literally means ‘black-white’. It is a co-creation by pianist and visual artist Tomoko Mukaiyama, choreographer Nicole Beutler and lighting designer Jean Kalman, and it is guided throughout by the impassioned and uncompromising music of Russian composer Galina Ustwolskaja. Shirokuro is an aesthetic experience packed with pathos and the occasional tender aside.

The idea of a ‘dance concert’ inspired Beutler and Mukaiyama and brought them together. Their search for the right music ended when they found the work of Ustwolskaja, a composer of intensely physical music who led a reclusive existence in Russia. She only received recognition late in life, largely thanks to the efforts of Reinbert de Leeuw.

Shirokuro opens with modest lighting from three fluorescent bulbs distributed about the stage. Mukaiyama’s piano concert is prefaced with a mysterious soundscape of breathing followed by soft mechanical beeping. Soon after this she enters the stage, barely visible and murmuring as she rummages about near one of the lights. Then she takes the lamp and settles with it at her piano.

Mukaiyama’s appearance is almost bestial, as when the audience can only discern her naked back framed by a mass of black hair. And this impression is only intensified by the physicality of her piano playing: she hammers the keys with her wrists and fists and energetically swings her full weight up and down to achieve maximum power. There is an endearing quality to it, especially because Mukaiyama occasionally intersperses Ustwolskaja’s music with the diffident tones of Schubert. This contrast creates a musical tension. The arrival of dancer Mitchell Lee van Rooij on the dimly lit stage introduces a new contrast; initially only his white shirt catches the light and he, like Mukaiyama, is an undefined creature in motion. The element of suggestion is continually being fed in Shirokuro.

Former Scapino dancer Rooij moves about the gradually brightening space, hacking it to pieces with vigorous sweeps of his arms – using his full weight and paralleling Mukaiyama’s piano playing. His lowered hips and powerfully swaying arms recall the vocabulary of some martial art. But the movements also transform, such as when Van Rooij and Mukaiyama (looking like Yoko Ono in her black wig) begin their slow and serene pas de deux, with Mukaiyama almost literally dancing in the shadow of her counterpart.

Penetrating beams of light from behind the silver-grey curtains herald a new scene. The stage design for Shirokuro continually shifts perspective: initially subtle, it gradually becomes increasingly insistent. Jean Kalman has used simple tools to create new landscapes. In one of his set pieces, thousands of black scraps flutter to the floor, to the accompaniment of a delicate rustling sound. This is no brief or superficial effect; it is long, persistent. It is astonishing to what extent this trio of artists have galvanised one another in their pursuit of extremes. Shirokuro merges stage design, dance and music in a gripping sensory experience.

© Moos van den Broek