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Element Dance Theater & Navarrete x Kajiyama

THE MAPPING PROJECT/
San Francisco International Arts Festival CounterPULSE

by Erica Milsom

June 7, 2008 -- San Francisco

At first glance, Element Dance Theater and Navarrete x Kajiyama are not an easy match artistically. Their styles and subject matter vary, and frequently this is enough reason to draw an artistic line in the sand. But, I'm so happy they decided to collaborate on their recent show for the San Francisco International Arts Festival, The Mapping Project, which took on the idea of borders from two very different perspectives.  While the Element Dancers focused  on WWII-era  stories handed down from the dancers' parents and grandparents, the Navarrete x Kajiyama (NxK) dancers were reliving the stories of their parents as well as those of a modern day immigrant -- stories of fearful crossings, grueling workdays and the constant concern over being found out.

There was a documentary quality to the NxK performance, a percussive frankness to their movement, minimalist costuming, and opportunistic staging with some of their performances at the bus stop outside and other parts erupting from the restrooms.  These pieces of the performance were not presented as embellished or cherished memories; they were worried, harried, and tense.  These dancers brought you inside the experience of the janitors, day-laborers, and painters we depend on to make our world function.  The music Ayako Kataoka and Teresa Wong created for these sections was ambient and foreboding. The dancers' faces were quiet and concealed.

In contrast, the Element performances had the smooth structure of a story told time and time again, passed down, sometimes poked open to reveal the concealments of the teller.  The movement here was sweeping, with rapturous moments quickly followed by terror and destruction.  Embellished with flames, bright kimonos and leather suitcases, the Element dancers took the audience on old journeys.  The dancers’ expressions were full of terror, dismay or passion in common only in that they were all unafraid of notice.   This was true Element Dance Theater genius -- the making of literature upon and between bodies.

Initially, I felt a strong sense of dissonance between the intertwining sections, finding it hard to make the mental leap from the hoodie- and jean-wearing dancer in duet with a trash can to the Jewish grandfather dancing with his suitcase of holy dirt.  Soon enough, though, it was that exact dissonance that I began to understand as giving the piece strength.  It's so seldom we get to place the experience of an American GI in WWII in the same context as a janitor or day laborer, much less with the Geisha who entertained him while on tour.  Yet, this piece dared to draw those parallels.  Like syncopated harmonics, the unusual combination of these two entities drew a bigger picture than either could alone.

Intertwined with the dancers were animated and graphic elements created by Chris Lanier and an aluminum sculptural work - a house – by Ilya Noe.  The spare and cohesive nature of the work, projected statements, simple stark animations and a bare bones house structure in the middle of the set functioned like an architectural metronome reinforcing the tempo of the performance.

In the end, I felt that the performance lovingly addressed the difference between what it means to be in the midst of surviving and to have survived.


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