Ame to Ame (Candy and Rain) at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF

“Call them postmodern, postminimalist Butoh artists and you might come close to capturing the style of inkBoat. Or call them nothing at all and allow yourself to be seduced by the absorbing Ame to Ame (Candy and Rain), a two-person performance piece which the company is presenting through next weekend at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum in San Francisco. The odd spelling of the company’s name partakes of the low-rent quirkiness of certain sectors of the avant-garde. Yet, respects other than orthography, inkBoat is an original.

The troupe was founded by Shinichi Momo Koga in 1994 and has found a multlidisciplinary dance and theater audience.. Koga was a student of Bay Area residents, Hiroko and Koichi Tamano, who had been disciples of Tatasumi Hijikata, the progenitor of the postwar Japanese expressionist dance of apocalypse we know as Butoh. Koga has been joined in this latest venture by Yuko Kaseki, a freelance dancer who has worked extensively in Germany and Japan. Completing the team are composer Sheila Denise McCarthy and Marc Ates, listed in the inkBoat promotional material as “director/choreographer/light design.”

This mix of sensibilities is genuinely interesting; and what keeps one fascinated during the one-act, 55-minute Ame to Ame is the combination of technical mastery and the dark vein of humor that runs through the performances by Koga and Kaseki. On Saturday (Aug. 7), they suggested that Butoh has evolved in a way that its anguished patriarch never could have predicted a half century ago.

Ame to Ame begins like more Butoh dances than you would care to name. Koga, a buffed fellow with a top knot, dressed shirtless in a white lounge suit; and Kaseki, in a white, ruffled number, move cautiously through limited trajectories, careful to avoid colliding both with each other and the furniture – a chair, a stool and a table. Koga contorts his hands into weird shapes. Kaseki, a perky, doll-like performer, makes grotesque faces, not omitting the silent scream that has become an icon of the Butoh school.

All, however, is not quite traditional. After this slow-as-molasses prologue, the couple leans into martial arts postures and suddenly, they’re leaping and diving all over the space. What follows is 40 minutes of superb physical comedy. Some of it is classic mime material. One dancer leans chin and elbow on table; the other dancer whisks the table away and the first dancer hangs in space. The tables, so to speak, are turned, and a withdrawn chair finds Koga’s posterior defying gravity.

Yet, there’s a natural empathy here, as the pair’s movements acquire a mirror relationship. The piece stresses contrasts. Movement is either graduated or manic. Isolated extremities, like flexed feet, succeed the turbulent deployment of the entire hurtling body. Episodes of silence follow volleys of percussive music; throughout Ame to Ame, the choice of music (McCarthy intersperses bits by Nils Frykdahl, Dawn McCarthy, Carla Kilstedt and Matthias Bossi with her own compositions) is eminently apt; while Ates’ unerring lighting scheme keeps us dazzled.

The choreography grows ever less studied and more physical. Koga and Kaseki mount each other’s back. He beetles across the stage in a squatty walk that Chaplin might have envied, and they end with that most socialized and stylized of dance forms, a waltz. That inkBoat does not and cannot completely control the meaning of its choreography, that rigor must ultimately yield to the spontaneous, is the most winning aspect of Ame to Ame.

-ALLAN ULRICH, Voice of Dance, August 10, 2004

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