“Yuko Kaseki and Shinichi Iova-Koga, the Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire of Butoh, come together in inkBoat’s Ame to Ame (Candy and Rain) at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The duet marks a return of sorts. Berkeley-based inkBoat’s choreographer-dancer Koga, founder of the 10-year-old dance-theater company, was 2002’s Wattis artist in residence at Yerba Buena Center. This relationship culminated in November of that year with Onion, a remarkably ambitious and memorable premiere that seemed to fuse Butoh and Beckett into a compellingly original theatrical pantomime. Onion, which featured Berlin-based choreographer-dancer Kaseki and Koga, enjoyed much too brief a run at the time, though it went on to tour the United States and Europe.
Ame to Ame reunites Koga and Kaseki in Yerba Buena Center’s ample performance space, under the direction of fellow choreographer and lighting designer Marc Ates. While a more modest piece in size and scope, Ame to Ame shows off a unique, ongoing, and altogether impressive collaboration in a brilliantly focused work, whose playful humor, sensuality, romance, and flecks of pop culture wend their comical, invitingly human way across a cold and mysterious alienation. The set consists of three simple items of furniture (a chair, a stool, and a table, all painted white), each at the outset enveloped in its own circle of light – an economy of forms that gives surprising rein to the performers – as the characters take their first incongruous steps around one another: a woman, perhaps a girl, dressed in a short white dress and white knee socks – her kawaii image distorts demonically from time to time like a Yoshitomo Nara cartoon – initially teeters in place at center stage as a man, barefoot in white pants and a white blazer, slinks backward slowly from right to left behind her. The sense that each remains in his or her own world, oblivious of one another, is momentarily exploded by the gesture of the man briefly, casually supporting the woman’s fall without breaking his stride.
From there the piece moves through a series of scenes whose contrasting moods and tempos freely incorporate elements of modern, jazz, and popular dance, all with captivating grace and precision. Gestures are abstracted into a precise vocabulary of mindless routine, physical and spiritual weariness, or manic excitement (one movement looks like shaking a drink mixer, another like repeatedly sticking a wet finger in a light socket) as the characters come together and fly apart in various ways. One passage early on has all the appealing familiarity of a classic vaudeville sketch, refracted as always through a distinctive Butoh lens, as the table gets swiped back and forth by characters who would use it as a pillow. It even resolves on an unabashedly sentimental note.
Throughout, Ates’s radiant and kinetic lighting design casts different shades, shapes, and textures of white light about the stage, while the score (always an elemental force in an inkBoat performance) unfurls lonely, lovely landscapes of sound from composer Sheila McCarthy, with added compositions by local musical giants Carla Kihlstedt, Dawn McCarthy, Nils Frykdahl, and Matthias Bossi (including two exquisite songs previously released under the name Faun Fables). McCarthy’s lush electronic-percussive music both propels and cradles the dancers’ movements. It’s effervescently driving and quirky during passages of frenetic movement and blends startlingly with the darker passages (like placing a shell to your ear and hearing delicate metal leaves blowing around some deserted alternate universe).
Time speeds up and then slows, the greed of sleep gives way to the gallantry of concern, and childlike play and sexual prowess whirl around fleeting contacts between bodies and personalities. Such contrasts and more are beautifully managed throughout, frequently with humor either wry or raucous. The couple waltz drunkenly to the end of time, a final song sending somber, wistful lyrics washing over them. Words become inarticulate notes, rising in pitch, expanding in power (opening up a yawning space between the lovers), and dissolving into an undulating wall of music built steadily upward, tsunami-like, only to be brought crashing down again – as now two fading points of light circumscribe two alien but remembering bodies – in a chilling, howling vortex of sound.
-Robert Avila, SF Bay Guardian, August 11, 2004