DiverseWorks Art Space
October 14–16, 2010
Reviewed by Theodore Bale
Front to back: Julie Alexander, Kayo Seyama, and Kuniya Sawamura in
Tyler, Tyler. Photo by Alexandra Corazza, Courtesy DiverseWorks.
Though the history of Japan-U.S. relations is largely troubling, the spirit of each country seems quite at ease with the other in Yasuko Yokoshi and Masumi Seyama’s profound work Tyler, Tyler.
The goal of this unique blending of Japanese classical dance and American postmodern movement, in Yokoshi’s own simple words, is “to put two polar-opposite aesthetics together.” The choreographers do not imply a hierarchy in their arrangement of the material. Yokoshi calls the two domains parallel, mirrors of each other, equal entities. Hence the strange, dual title for a dance that appears to have no precedent in either the U.S. or Japan. Thankfully, it never descends into an exchange-student sensibility, never aims to “teach” us about a foreign culture. Rather, it presents a direct experience for viewers on either side, or somewhere in between, that seems beyond theory or intellectualization.
At first this is a jarring, mysterious experience. In an opening scene, classical dancer Naoki Asaji (a large and imposing man dressed in a kimono) fingers a toy piano while singing The Carpenters’ 1973 schmaltz-anthem “Yesterday Once More.” His English is strongly colored by a Japanese accent, and he smiles profusely as the young American dancer Julie Alexander moves through a series of floating, lyrical phrases. She’s wearing a long denim skirt, and the sound of the yards of dense fabric flapping in the air adds another layer of sensation. The irony—of his Samurai persona juxtaposed against the toy piano, the pop song, and Alexander’s intense solo—is evident, but the meaning impenetrable.
Eventually one settles into the context, and the multi-layered piece becomes psychological, rich, and expressive. When a trio of classical Japanese dancers expands into a quintet with two western dancers, all of them holding silver paper fans, structural and thematic connections emerge that amplify and transmute the whole.
At the climax, musician Steven Reker invades these events as a kind of cowboy-troubadour, in brown leather boots and wielding an electric bass guitar. His golden voice sings Japanese lyrics. He plays a slide whistle as if it were a bamboo Shakuhachi.
It is unlikely that Yokoshi and Seyama intended any literal meanings. The classical dances come from the Japanese medieval epic “The Tale of the Heike,” though the narratives are elusive for westerners. This doesn’t mean that certain metaphors do not emerge. Dancer Kayvon Pourazar, who seems at the heart of Tyler, Tyler, wears an intricate Civil War–looking uniform tailored in denim, with silver buttons and a large silver belt buckle. When he sings the final phrase of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” three times (“you’re gonna reap just what you sow”), it’s like an admonition to Admiral Perry, or those who arranged the Convention of Kanagawa, which in the mid-19th century ended Japan’s nearly 200-year policy of seclusion.