Ame to Ame (Candy and Rain)

at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF

“‘Romance’ isn’t a word usually associated with the Japanese dance form butoh, but inkBoat’s “Ame to Ame (Candy and Rain),” which opened Friday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and repeats this weekend, manages to pull heartstrings while posing profoundly philosophical questions . . .

. . .the core of the work is the dance performances. The petite Kaseki, in her Carnaby Street Mod white minidress and knee socks, is like a wise child. Koga is an extraordinarily focused performer with a long face capable of resembling a gargoyle one moment and the visage in Edward Munch’s “The Scream” the next. The unfailing intensity of their connection only underlines the tragedy of their psychic individuality.”

-Rachel Howard, SF Chronicle, August 9, 2004

Ame to Ame (Candy and Rain)

at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF

“A couple, bound for the opera, wandered into the Forum by mistake, then dashed out minutes before inkBoat’s latest production, Ame to Ame (Candy and Rain) began. Had they stayed, they would have found the U.S. premiere of Shinichi Iova-Koga and Yuko Kaseki’s work operatic in its own way. While the only libretto was a panoply of keen gestures, extreme facial expressions, and Harpo-style physical maneuvers, the dancers’ bodies sang out the physical equivalent of songs—broken, dissonant, and often hilarious. Although there was no translation of these nonverbal arias, the dancers formed a portrait of mysterious yearning and frustration that was by turns comic, lyrical, ghoulish, and haunting.

InkBoat’s performers and collaborators, who work in both San Francisco and Berlin, push butoh away from ankoku butoh (the post-World War II dance of darkness) toward the more intimate form of “one dancer, one school” and “cheerful apocalypse” that was developed by Akaji Maro of Dairakudakan. While death still lurks, Koga, Kaseki, and director/choreographer/lighting designer Marc Ates use it to wrestle the solitary angels and lonely demons of self and other rather than nuclear apocalypse.

And wrestle they did. In white light ethereally littered with a white chair, table, and stool, the dancers, also in white, careered through space like sleepwalkers whose separate dreams repeatedly collided. Kaseki teetered across the stage, Koga caught and turned her, and eventually the pair moved on with affect-less drama. From beautifully crafted dreamy vignettes, accompanied by intriguing, edgy sound (by Sheila McCarthy, Dawn McCarthy, Carla Kihlstedt, and Nils Frykdahl), the couple exploded into grotesque play, bouncing belly to belly, high-stepping, flailing, and grimacing. From there they swung back into movement of refined sensitivity and timing, as when Kaseki sensuously laid her hands and head down on the tabletop and Koga pulled the table out from under her, leaving her poised exactly as she had been, now framing negative space. One of the most moving, tender moments of the evening arose when Koga used the three white props as stepping-stones for a somnolent Kaseki’s blind travel, the two like clowns in a wordless Beckett play.

“On a good day, candy falls like rain,” a voice said. “Ame” means “candy” as well as “rain,” and both are often sweet and welcome. So was this performance.”


Love is Shock

at New York Butoh Festival, 2003

Shinichi Momo Koga completed the evening with the gracefully designed Love is Shock. Hiding under mounds of a gorgeous fabric cloak, he softly blew a white kerchief from his face and peaked out curiously. A charming presence, he was rooted but levitating; within this tiny gem of a dance a path from dark to light moved like a stream. Eventually, letting down the burden of his cloak, he stomped on it as he turned in a slow circle. I overheard an audience member say “I want to marry that dance.”

-Alissa Cardone, The Brooklyn Rail, February 2004

‘Black Map’, the work in progress version of “The Crow Line”

at Dance Mission Theater, SFAIF, June/July 2005

The program, Black Map, with blank verse attributed to Cassie Terman, lists Shinichi Momo Koga for concept, direction and performance with Hiroko Sadamori as butoh exponent and Dohee Lee for Korean Drum and Voice. Sound and light design were attributed to Sheila McCarthy. inkBoat, based in Berkeley, has a clear butoh ethic, and a company which captivated a number of my professional colleagues, particularly some with whom I shared membership on the Isadora Duncan Dance Award Committee. So I was not surprised to see it listed on the performance roster of the San Francisco International Arts Festival with its principal, Shinichi Momo Iova-Koga providing the face on this year’s posters and postcards, strong, sensitive, handsomely proportioned.

What was surprising was that inkBoat presented Black Map as a work in progress, to be completed in the summer of 2006. This truncated version meant inkBoat shared only half of a two-hour slot starting at 7:30 to be followed by two other local performers scheduled for 9:30. This time slot allotment procedure recalled the dance/music marathon which occurs in Chennai (one-time Madras) every December and January with the classical music and dance traditions of South India; occasional guest appearances from other Indian classical forms and an even more occasional invited Westerner to lecture or demonstrate are included.

The Black Map excerpt was remarkably simple and evocatively lit. We saw first Koga with his back to us standing on coils of white rope, their circumference worthy of restraining a major ship. Koga’s body, mid-adolescent in silhouette, drooped as if swinging from a gallows, black coat askew, white shirt dribbling below the coat hem. Black Out.

In a lateral line accented by dusky lighting, Sadamori began to traverse the space from stage left to stage right in a crouching, crawling movement, each bare foot negotiating the hem of the shapeless black garment covering her humping posture, her left hand holding an instrument possessed of two rows of bells attached to a central wood staff painted red, said instrument used in Shinto rituals. Periodically Sadamori shook the bells as she traversed the space; her hair drawn up into a minuscule bun, the effect like a hair ball from a brush tossed into a dust bin. Watching her toes negotiating from under the faded black, flexing, placing themselves one step at a time, propelling the shapeless hump, was mesmerizing. Just past center stage Sadamori paused, looking around with combined fear and suspicion. In breaking from the repetition, timing and effect was perfect. A few steps more and she vanished into the wings.

In the semi-dark, we glimpsed a gowned female figure in mid-stage left. Before the lights went up she emitted incredible sounds, rough, extreme in range, as if the voice was attempting to move a mouth of pebbles, up, down, left, right, crosswise. I thought I heard some Korean pa’n sori. The light brightened, the figure came forward in a sleeveless black gown, accented by white inserts in the skirt. Dohee Lee began to move; with the arc of the hands, position of the arms and inflection of the shoulders, the impression of Korean training deepened. Her face an oval of delicacy and strength enjoyed by some Korean women, Lee looked steadily, impassively at the audience, adding to the cultural complexity, an upright mysterious addition to the earlier two sections, a shamaness in nightclub attire.

Another blackout before Koga staggered diagonally toward stage left front struggling with the rope about his neck, his slender eloquent hands, probably adept at classical Asian calligraphy, executing aerial pictographs of protest. His head was shaved except for the Ching Dynasty Chinese-like queue which seemed to start higher than the authentic variety. As visual comment on Gold Mountain, the original Chinese name for San Francisco, it was an added acidic flavor.
With his extremely flexible body, Koga struggled, nearly freed himself, then began to retreat. Lee emerged again, this time with an arm-sized drum, slung from her neck in a twisting white chord and holding two sticks. Standing in almost the same location where she danced, Lee began to hit the sides of the drum, her rhythm building gradually, marked by theatrical phrasing of her arms lifting in pauses before changing tempo, or area of the drum struck.

As if a march to the guillotine was announced by each sound, Koga managed to tangle himself in the rope while his hands made delicate, futile protests. He reached the coiled rope, and while an extremely soupy set of lyrics was heard over the broadcast system, Koga fell onto the rope and from a womb-like crouch gradually stretched to inertness. As Koga’s body settled onto this lump of white, Sadamori lurched from upstage right in a lingerie-strapped black cocktail dress, Shinto bells replaced by a bottle. She wove and stumbled her way towards Koga, located him; while the maudlin lines were sung about finding one’s soul mate or whatever was proclaimed, in a series off-balance pitched movements, Sadamori lowered herself to his side, providing him and the audience with a quintessential inebriated embrace before the blackout.

-Renee Renouf, Ballet Magazine, June/July 2005

Heavens’ Radio: Butoh finds a lighter side

at Venue 9, SF, June 2003

“inkBoat presented a two-weekend run of the spellbinding and dreamy Heaven’s Radio, Allen Willner’s adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s radio play All That Fall. Beckett, the laconic playwright in whose works language hides more than it expresses, is a natural for a Butoh interpretation, and three of the Bay Area’s best Butoh practitioners, Koga, Tanya Calamoneri, and Kinji Hayashi, shared Footloose’s tiny stage. A central character, Calamoneri’s old woman, listened to the radio for signs of life, much the way astronomers listen to noise from outer space ñ as a way of trying to get in touch with a reality. Koga never looked as good as he does under Willner’s firm direction, performing the Trickster who held the proverbial key, i.e., the egg from which life could emerge if its shell were to be shattered. And then there was Hayashi’s Pink Baby, round and naked like an egg forever almost being born.”

-Rita Feliciano, SF Bay Guardian, June 2003


at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF

…half trembling, half laughing affirmation of self, embracing history and mortality.
At the premiere last November of Onion by inkBoat, the scene before the assembling audience offered a Beckett-like tableau. On a dusty landscape atop a raised platform stage, a narcoleptic man (Shinichi Momo Koga) and woman (Yuko Kaseki) in peasant dress repose in something like mute bewilderment or exhaustion. The woman blankly stares outward, sitting on a foldout chair strapped to the back of her companion, who is initially obscured, doubled over and facing the other direction. As the audience settles in its seats, the man slowly rises and lumbers around under the strain of his load, while the woman remains limp and oblivious in her chair. They proceed to act out a series of scenarios beneath an enormous tower, crowned by a mumbling writer (Sten Rudstroem) in a bird’s nest, alternately clicking away at his typewriter and peering at the scene below – sometimes influencing the action with typewritten pages flung down a wire into the earth, other times only observing – while an arm (Haruko Nishimura) pushes onions, a radio, and a kettle through trapdoors in the floor, further spurring the man and woman on through a continuum of contortions and confrontations. In this existential landscape, the dancers, with an exacting and flawless technique, effectively limn ineffable states of consciousness with precise gestures and flashes of genuine humor that catch one completely off guard.

Part of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts “ Bay Area Now” series; Onion marked the Berkeley-based inkBoat’s most ambitious effort to date. Culminating Koga’s term as their Wattis Artist in Residence, the piece included an exquisite and elaborate stage (Frank Lee/Mary Lois Hare) and sound design (Dan Rathbun) that took supreme advantage of the Center for the Arts’ sizable auditorium. Onion combines various performance techniques, including Butoh and improvisation, in a deceptively simple, thematically rich narrative advanced largely through movement and the lush ambient score by Carla Kihlstedt and Dan Rathbun (two members of the East Bay’s avant-garde music group Sleepytime Gorilla Museum). A vivid yet nearly wordless work of unusual subtlety and force, Onion will tour the United States and Europe in 2004.

-Robert Avila, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Jan. 1, 2003

Onion: Laying down roots

at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF

Shinichi Momo Koga calls it his “onion obsession.”

“It just seems to come back again and again in my consciousness,” he says between rehearsals at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

A decade ago, the 34-year-old dancer/actor made a short film called “The Onion Cellar,” “about a group of people who gather to cut onions so that they can cry, because they are emotionally barren and don’t have a release anymore,” he explains.

Today onions are flying, springing through a trap door in the raised stage Koga’s constructed during a residency at the center’s Forum. He and partner Yuko Kaseki (sitting in a chair strapped onto Koga’s back) continue their slow, hunched, exquisitely contorted dance unfazed by the pelting of root vegetables, just as they will Thursday when Koga’s company inkBoat gives “Onion” its premiere here as part of Bay Area Now 3.

“There’s an issue of things you keep buried, and things you don’t let come out,” the half-Japanese former San Francisco State film student says during lunch break. “And the onion is metaphorically used to bring buried elements to the surface.”

The onion is not the only quirky image to preoccupy Koga’s imagination. Last year inkBoat’s show “Cockroach” ran for three weeks at the former Theater Artaud, proving that Koga is a San Francisco talent to watch. A journey through the dark mind of an obsessively prim lover (played with face-rippling intensity by Koga himself), the production was a stunning integration of avant-garde music, surreal sets and costumes, and psychological drama.

But though Koga founded the earliest incarnation of inkBoat in 1994, his work has yet to reach a wide audience in San Francisco, probably because it is so difficult to categorize. The son of visual artists, Koga trained in the deeply imagistic Tadashi Suzuki Theater Method but considered acting something he did on the side while getting his undergraduate degree in photography at California Polytechnic.

He came to San Francisco and met Koichi and Hiroko Tamano — practitioners of that post-World War II, imagination-driven form of Japanese dance known as butoh — in 1991, and soon joined their company. But he doesn’t consider his work butoh.

“I wouldn’t advertise this as a butoh piece even though that is my main background and training,” he says. “I’m trying to bring more everyday life elements into it, more human interaction. Probably the best thing to call us is ‘interdisciplinary’ — although that can also be misleading.”

In fact, Koga is far more tapped into the local music scene than he is to either the dance or theater communities. He met his longtime musical collaborators — Carla Kihlstedt, Dan Rathburn and Nils Frykdahl of the Oakland band Sleepytime Gorilla Museum — while shopping for records at Rasputin Music.

The musicians often have played their spare, haunting music live as characters in the show — for “Cockroach” they looked like ashen grave-diggers, running across the stage to strike enormous hanging pipes and create a climactic cacophony. But for “Onion” they have recorded their music, in hopes that the show will go on to tour.

It won’t be the first time Koga’s work has been seen in far-off places. He’s had great success with the European circuit, performing and teaching in Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Holland, Italy, France and Austria, and he now resides half a year in Berlin. But the United States has been another matter.

“I’ve done everything guerilla style,” Koga says. “I started here in the streets, and have done small theaters where I could, and I could continue that attitude in Europe because I could get gigs there quickly. But here it’s slower. People have to see you for a long time before they trust you in a theater, and they have to feel some history, I think.”

Now Koga’s work is beginning to get seen here — last year inkBoat was chosen for the Seattle Butoh Festival — and Koga is thinking long-term. He’d like more time together for his bicontinental group of performers (“Onion’s” other three dancer/actors are from Germany and Japan), who work together when they can on the 20- by 12-foot stage Koga’s built in his Berkeley warehouse space.

“I’m the initiator of the work — I put the framework on it — but we’re making it together,” Koga says of their collaboration. “It’s about finding out not just about yourself but your relationship to other people. It’s a basic human thing.”

-RACHEL HOWARD, SF Examiner, 11/05/2002


at Theater Artaud, SF

Blood, earth, water, breath. Local choreographer Shinichi Momo Koga directs interdisciplinary performance troupe inkBoat through a death march of the cataleptic soul in “Cockroach,” an Eastern variation on a Kafkaesque nightmare in which a broken man, haunted by veiled memories of regret and desire, refuses to go gentle into the night. The problem is he’s arguably been dead his whole life. But unwilling to accept his fate, he tortures himself in his last moments with fragmented visions of his headless bride, whose longing for intimacy he could never match.
Warped limbs and spines, exaggerated hand gestures, anguished faces. These images in inkBoat’s solos and partnering vignettes, which comprise the backbone of the choreography, stem from Japanese butoh, the post-war avant-garde movement school that draws its power from the internal combustion of introspection. Other fiery elements in the piece include a trio of ragged dancers, perhaps representing the Furies, who torment our fallen hero, screeching like snake-tongued banshees, poking at him with hot wires, mimicking his decay by dangling their own bloody tentacles from the wings of the stage.

Founded in 1994, the Bay Area-based inkBoat strives for what Koga calls “an alchemy of forms, creating relationships between Asian and Western movement, theater and music styles.” In “Cockroach,” the abstract drama uses cinematic devices – from still frames to slow motion to car-chase velocity – and improvisatory techniques, derived from Koga’s study of Action Theater, to create a natural ebb and flow in the tension. The music acts as a central character in the piece as well. Performed live on mostly homemade instruments and found objects by a quartet that includes avant-rockers Nils Frykdahl and Dan Rathbun of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, the deeply percussive soundtrack echoes both the din of an industrial junkyard and the tuneful symphonic beats of 20th-century classical maven Iannis Xenakis. Cold, metallic, and eerie, the score heightens the dance’s sense of loss and unbearable sorrow.

Though largely a serious work, flashes of dark existentialist comedy emerge, e.g., when the estranged wife slaps the broken man and when she erupts into a fit of absurd giddiness. But much like the unexpected humor in Kafka’s stories, these events trigger a quick chuckle, then an
uneasiness sets in, which mirrors the dying man’s uncomfortable metamorphosis into frog, lizard, snake, insect – as if only devolution will save his empty soul.

– Sam Prestianni, SF Weekly, November 2001