Kokoro delves deeper into hu­man ex­is­tence

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

I> BY JANET SMITH

n Kokoro Dance’s sub­ter­ranean new KW Stu­dios space, four still fig­ures are com­ing to life slowly, ever so slowly, as if they are emerg­ing from the pri­mor­dial ooze.

Jay Hirabayashi stands, knees bent, with laser fo­cus, while Bar­bara Bour­get lies in a fe­tal ball; Molly Mcder­mott is col­lapsed over her knees on the floor and Billy Marchen­ski is flat on his back, legs splayed. To the sob­bing strings and horns of Zbig­niew Preis­ner’s Re­quiem for My Friend, their seized limbs be­gin to move.

We have wit­nessed the three­decade-old Van­cou­ver com­pany take on themes of birth and death be­fore; as in­ter­preters of Ja­panese bu­toh, that will al­ways be the sub­stance of their work. And we have seen Kokoro dancers move with this slow but in­tensely com­mit­ted ac­tion over the years. But what Kokoro has never quite done be­fore is chore­o­graph four sep­a­rate but si­mul­ta­ne­ous so­los, as Bour­get and Hirabayashi do here, in this sec­tion of their new, ful­l­length Embryotrophic Cavatina.

“We’ve de­vel­oped a lot of ma­te­rial and we have to fig­ure out where it fits to­gether, where there are res­o­nances and in­ter­con­nec­tions,” says Hirabayashi, who ex­plains that the four have built the so­los as a group.

“It’s some­thing I re­mem­ber early in my ca­reer that Balan­chine did,” ex­plains Bour­get, who once trained at the Royal Win­nipeg Bal­let. “It was re­ally in­tri­cate and pre­cise and com­plex at the same time.”

Bour­get was drawn by the metaphor­i­cal value of stag­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ous so­los. “In life we have dif­fer­ent paths. We share some things and we don’t share oth­ers,” she says, still breath­ing hard af­ter the re­hearsal. “You’re born, you be­come a teenager, you marry and have chil­dren.… If you take our four chil­dren, their paths have been in­cred­i­bly dif­fer­ent, even though they’ve been in­ter­con­nected. Now we have five grand­chil­dren and we’re see­ing it re­peat it­self.

“Dance re­ally does that the best: it’s re­ally ex­press­ing what it is to be hu­man.”

In a way, that’s al­ways what Kokoro has tried to ex­press. But now, with Bour­get 67 and Hirabayashi 70— both preter­nat­u­rally youth­ful—the theme is com­ing into sharper fo­cus. “You do get a cer­tain wis­dom as you age—even though you make the same mis­takes,” says Bour­get with a laugh.

Embryotrophic Cavatina swirls with th­ese ideas of mor­tal­ity and the ups and downs of life—“pain and joy and ev­ery­thing in be­tween”, as Bour­get puts it. It’s a piece the duo has been work­ing on, in­ter­mit­tently, for the past 20 years. A ma­jor in­spi­ra­tion was Pol­ish com­poser Preis­ner’s mov­ing score, which is split into two parts: the first, “Re­quiem”; the sec­ond, “Life”, as the dance turns back into the world of the liv­ing af­ter dwelling in grief. Kokoro had cre­ated a mov­ing short to the first sec­tion, but had al­ways dreamed of de­vel­op­ing it into the full 69 min­utes of Preis­ner’s score. That goal was reignited last year, when Bour­get and Hirabayashi were teach­ing a work­shop at Cuba’s Danza Teatro Re­ta­zos and per­formed the briefer ver­sion of Embryotrophic Cavatina.

“They were so moved, we knew we had to do a full piece,” Bour­get says.

Back in Van­cou­ver, the com­pany’s been able to find added in­spi­ra­tion work­ing on Embryotrophic Cavatina in its tech­ni­cally su­perb 3,802-square­foot pro­duc­tion stu­dio be­neath the atrium of the Wood­ward’s Build­ing— a space where Preis­ner’s haunt­ing score im­merses them.

They’ve been cre­at­ing it with two of their long-time dancers, Mcder­mott and Marchen­ski, who have by now ab­sorbed the duo’s pro­found ap­proach to bu­toh-in­spired move­ment.

How dif­fi­cult is it to move so de­ter­minedly slowly, as they do off the top of this sec­tion? “I think af­ter work­ing with them for 10 years I move slower each day,” Mcder­mott says, smil­ing. “But even though it may ap­pear we’re mov­ing slow, in­side we’re mov­ing re­ally fast.”

“Bar­bara and Jay talk about try­ing to say the most with the least amount of ef­fort,” adds Marchen­ski. “As you pare things away emo­tion­ally and psy­cho­log­i­cally, the ob­sta­cles to ex­pres­sion get stripped away and you’re ex­press­ing in a re­ally deep level.… So you’re mov­ing in a small way but you’re full of sen­sa­tion.”

In the first part, “Re­quiem”, Kokoro has also stripped down the set, with the dancers per­form­ing nude ex­cept for loin­cloths, wear­ing the fa­mil­iar ghostly white body paint of bu­toh. The sec­ond part, “Life”, fit­tingly comes to life with artist Tsuneko “Koko” Kokubo’s colour­ful cos­tumes and pro­jected paint­ings.

Cre­at­ing with its col­lab­o­ra­tors, Kokoro, af­ter two decades of work­ing on this piece, is cir­cling back on its own his­tory and find­ing new life—and loss—in it.

“If you’ve gone full cir­cle, then you start again, and I don’t re­ally feel that we’ve com­pleted any cy­cle,” Hirabayashi stresses. “We’re still find­ing new things to ex­plore.”

Embryotrophic Cavatina,

With Jay Hirabayashi and Bar­bara Bour­get cir­cle back on a piece they started 20 years ago, and find new life in it. Peter East­wood photo.

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