Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Dance Review: Hirabayashi’s Return to the Roots Redefines “Dance Theater”-Expect the Unexpected

Bereft08_4I don’t know about you, but whenever I see the words “dance theater” at the end of a company’s name, I think to myself “please don’t let this be a combination of dance and bad acting.”   Companies can get away with that in the classical ballet world, but modern dance… uh, no!

However, contrary to my personal beliefs, Kazuko Hirabayashi has a refreshing approach to modern dance theater.  Her evening of both old and new works, Return to the Roots, at the Ailey CitiGroup Theater is a true testament of this.  The company members’ ability to display raw emotions and allow their movement to tell the story without overdramatizing their expression is what makes this show a real treat.

Are You Fierce?  Become a Member of iDANZ Today!  Click Here.Despite the fact that the opening number, Mudai (1971), lists it’s premier date as nearly four decades ago, the movement still has an innovative quality that keeps the audience at a heightened level of curiosity. Hirabayashi incorporates unthinkable ways of lifting, partnering, and descending to the ground that is anything but traditional… I never know what to expect next!  The dancers are definitely on their leg in this piece as they maintain balance during long holds in arabesque and tilts.  Stacy Martorana sets the standard for the evening with her eye-grabbing stage presence and beautiful lines.

Speaking of the unexpected, Bereft, the second work of the evening, is just in a category within itself.  Unlike the first piece, Bereft is all about sex, love, seduction, and lust.  So, you know this one is clearly my personal fave…  This piece tells a slightly twisted tale of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden; however in this version, instead of Eve being tempted by the apple, she’s tempted by the devil himself- if you know what I mean.  And boy is he tempting!  Adrian Silver, who dances the character of the devil, is a force to reckoned with when he hits the stage!  Be ready for full out movement paired with all encompassing emotion. 

Bereft -Choreography by Kazuko HirabayashiNow, one of my favorite moments is Eve’s first entrance onstage in a large plastic sphere that she emerges from, like an angel, with the air from the sphere blowing both her hair and top back to reveal her bare chest.  Also, a hot duet, between Eve (Kathryn Alter) and the devil (Adrian Silver), leaves very little to the imagination with vividly suggestive gestures. The not so elusive underdog, Adam (John Hindrichs) is anything but an underdog in his performance quality, focus, and ability to make the audience relate to his emotions.

Next on the program is Haiku, a premiere solo performed by Sarah Stackhouse. After seeing a series of high legs and jumps and bare chests, the last thing I thought to see would be an older, wiser, and more serene woman grace the stage.  When the lights come up, I see two large rocks placed at opposite corners of the stage.  Sarah Stackhouse silences the audience the minute she steps on stage and begins to move.  She gives “full out” a brand new meaning as she creates an atmosphere of humility and reflection that pulls the audience into her world.  Stackhouse performs as if every movement made is informed and precise in intention.  This piece is definitely a highlight of the evening.

Hirabayashi ends the first half of the show on a bright note with another premiere, Light is Calling.  This piece is just pure fun to watch! The dancers all seem to move solely for the joy of dance.  Despite the jazziness of the piece, Hirabayashi had very quirky moves and gestures that gave the piece an interesting edge.  Janelle Smith particularly caught my attention in this piece with her energy and never ending lines.  Get it, girl!  Yaaaas.

Bereft -Choreography by Kazuko HirabayashiAfter a brief intermission, the evening ended with a premiere of The Spring, a piece based on the Japanese Ainu bear sacrifice ceremony.  Performed to Le Sacre du Printemps by Stravinsky, The Spring is a superb modern day rendition of the original Rite of Spring – a daring but successful feat for Hirabayashi.  In this company piece, the entire cast turns it up a notch and really delivers strength, uniformity, athleticism, and musicality.  Selena Elaine Chau, in character of the bear, steals the Ms. Fierce/Sexy Beast award for the evening with her standout performance!  Not only is she wholly present in her role with her animalistic nature, but she also gives "the leg," gives more vert in her jumps than most basketball players, and pulls it all off wearing a net unitard!  Yes… WERK!

Return to the Roots is an eclectic display of Hirabayashi’s artistry.  She has a unique voice that sings strongly with individuality and reinvention.  She keeps her audience fully engaged with the element of surprise and the unknown.  I’m curious to see what she has up her sleeve for the future.  As a heads up…be prepared for the unexpected.

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Official Dance Review by Simone Sobers
Performance:  Kazuko Hirabayashi
Choreography:  Kazuko Hirabayashi
Venue:  Ailey CitiGroup Theater
Show Date:  Friday, October 23, 2009

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