Tyler Tyler: Live review
With some performances, films, etc.—art as event—the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat. Get in, buckle up and, when it’s over, think about the ride and whether you enjoyed it or not. Do so with a show like Tyler Tyler, Yasuko Yokoshi’s latest work playing Columbia’s Dance Center through October 30, and you’ll start to wonder whether there’s a journey in your future at all. Yokoshi’s made no passenger seat. You have to take the wheel, watch actively and think. If you do, there’s a lot to see.
The 90-minute piece plays straight through eleven scenes based loosely on The Tale of the Heike, a medieval Japanese epic that originated in the oral tradition sometime, it’s thought, in the 12th century. (The show’s title is taken from an Anglophone bastardization of Taira, one of the two warring clans central to the Heike legend mirrored, says Yokoshi, to underscore her disinterest in placing traditional Japanese dance before American contemporary, or vice versa.) Yokoshi has taken this 700-year-old story, which has inspired Japanese art and performance (especially Noh theater) for generations, and dissected it with a knife only she can hold. Once the show ends, you can see its layers as clearly as in one of David Kimble’s cutaways of a Ferrari or Corvette, or the plastinated innards of a Body Worlds cadaver.
Past and present factor into Yokoshi’s unique perspective. She was born in Hiroshima but has spent roughly half her life in New York. She’s mashed up repertoire from the Su-odori school (“bare bones,” eschewing elaborate makeup and other hallmarks of traditional kabuki) of dance-theater choreographed by Kanjyuro Fujima VI, learned through a lengthy mentorship under a disciple of his, Masumi Seyama. Ko-uta versions of songs by the Carpenters, Cat Power and Lou Reed hold associated scenes like delicate dishes under meticulously plated entrées. These courses display shrewd formal choices: The first scene is followed by its structural opposite, for example, and the story played out by Tyler Tyler’s gorgeous costume design (by Akiko Iwasaki with Mayumi Hayashi, Yuko Tamura and Hajime Ando) is its own layer of action. In terms of proportion, balance and detail, Tyler Tyler is positively Miesian (who himself was spiritually Japanese).
And the dancing is stunning. NYC mainstays Julie Alexander and Kayvon Pourazar (brilliant with John Jasperse Company at the MCA in April, and the owner of a ten-day-old Bessie for his work with Jasperse and Yokoshi) lend their versatility to the work, game for roles involving singing, toy piano–playing and, in Alexander’s case, a lot of incongruous profanity. A duet they dance toward the end of Tyler Tyler, despite forging no new territory in active/passive, puppet/puppeteer dynamics, nonetheless shows how that sort of thing should be done. Tokyo-based Naoki Asaji, Kuniya Sawamura and Kayo Seyama are beautifully open to adding their kabuki expertise to the culturally slippery stage environment; a closing solo by Seyama—who’s in her mid-sixties—incongruously dressed in a t-shirt and pants, sums up Yokoshi’s vision in a way that little else could.
Active observation isn’t in vogue, sadly; don’t attend Tyler Tyler expecting its world to be handed to you on a silver platter. But do go if you want to take in a rich spread of visual information and discover—and chew on—what it says about where we are at the end of 2010. The Taira clan swiftly rose to dominance, so it goes, then fell from power just as quickly. Stories don’t last seven centuries without an enduring truth at their core.
Tyler Tyler by Yasuko Yokoshi, with music by Steven Reker, continues through October 30 at the Dance Center of Columbia College.