The concept and collaboration behind Japanese choreographer Kota Yamazakis (glowing) sounded intriguing: an exploration of darkness and light, of the intersections between the cultures and dance practices of Japanese butoh, Africa, and U.S. modern dance. Presented by the Miami Light Project at their Light Box at Goldman Warehouse in Wynwood on Friday, (glowing) was dreamlike and visually exquisite, with beautifully nuanced performances by its five dancers. But it also felt wan and meandering, never gathering either theatrical force or choreographic cohesion.
Although (glowing) was largely inspired by darkness its presence in Japanese culture, its ambiguity and effect on the psyche, the darkness in Yamazakis childhood in rural Japan and in the African village where he began collaborating with African dancers the visual palette was largely stark and bright. The dancers, wearing idiosyncratically shaped black and white costumes designed by Yamazaki, performed on a white stage, while Kathy Kaufmanns cool, gorgeously calibrated lighting shifted from floodlit intensity to a numinous, almost palpable glow that seemed to cling to their skin. Kohji Setohs score, mostly watery and wooden sounding pings, knocks and gurgles, was a soothing aural backdrop.
The dancing was largely the loose-limbed, flowing palette of contemporary release-based modern dance, particularly the Americans Maggie Bennett and Eva Schmidt. Shiferaw Tariku, from Ethiopia, usually moved with greater intensity, his back undulating as he shuffled in a low crouch, or flinging arms and legs in a kind of deconstruction of traditional African dance. (A second African dancer injured herself in rehearsal and was dropped from the piece). Yamazakis wife Mina Nishimura combined a beautiful, birdlike delicacy with a loopy oddity, a subtle clown; while Yamazaki could unleash the kind of thrashing intensity we associate with butoh.
All of them danced with a mesmerizing focus, intricacy and clarity.
But those details didnt cohere. Occasionally the dancers would merge in a movement pattern, or you glimpsed a relationship between, say, Tarikus whipping arms and Nishimuras loosely flung ones. About three-quarters of the way through the hour-plus piece, there are several duets a supple, sensitive dance for Nishimura and Yamazaki hinted intriguingly at a close communication but mostly the dancers seem disconnected from each other as they move around and on and off the stage.
And yet the ending features a kind of drama. The dancers lower bundles of wooden timbers from the ceiling, then stand them around the stage, symbols for wooden huts, while the score changes to insect and bird sounds of the country at night.
Nishimura stands at the front as the stage darkens almost completely, tiny bits of light stroking her face and hands as she reaches out, turning slowly, as if blindly searching the darkness. The moment is poignant, made more so when the lights come back on and the dancers take places around the stage, matter of fact and isolated, and the sense of longing that briefly emerged in the darkness disappears in the light. And so does the sense of meaning to (glowing).