Hiroaki Umeda, Japanese choreographer/dancer, seems to be interested in only two elements: space and his impulse. For Sunday night’s performances of “while going to a condition,” and “Haptic,” Umeda’s primary goal was for the audience to experience the space around him and around them. Umeda’s performances are not meant to be watched, but felt and experienced, and only with these expectations will it be enjoyed.
However, none of this “feeling the space” business would be possible without Umeda’s use of digital sounds and neon lighting. In retrospect, those heading to Umeda’s show with eager hopes of witnessing a combination of hip-hop and butoh may be disappointed. The show rests heavily upon the multimedia experience. There is dancing, for sure, but I’ve seen this type of dancing on the giant speakers of dance clubs in New York City.
That said, Umeda can surely dance — his body moves like Jell-O, like he’s missing knees and elbows. Fluid popping and locking is easier said than done and Umeda never underwent formal training. But his show is less about dance and more about transporting the viewer to his state — which, after careful consideration, is either a video game or a version of those trippy Sprite commercials.
The first piece, “while going to a condition” begins with several minutes of what can only be described as TV static filling an empty stage. Finally Umeda walks out — and stands still.
Five more minutes of higher pitched TV static ensue accompanied by flashes of white light projected onto the screen backdrop. The light hits in premeditated stripes — matching the heavy bass sounds and at times haloing Umeda’s (still) still body. Around the time you inwardly say, “Oy, this lighting is giving me a headache,” Umeda begins moving his lower body in small increments.
An ankle rolls, a leg becomes involved, and one foot begins a short voyage away from the body (still connected to the floor), toe-heel-toe-heel, before it returns in the manner it left and the other foot heads out, solo.
Repetition is rampant in the sounds and movements. The ear-splitting scratchy dial-tones and beeps alter in pitch (higher of course. Oh, my headache), but they are on a loop. Umeda slowly incorporates his upper body to innovative airplane whirring. I can’t stop thinking he looks like Michael Jackson on replay. The toe-heel-toe-heel persists — anchoring his rapidly advancing choreographed impulses.
Suddenly, a neon blue horizontal stripe rips down the center of the stage, the bass drops, and he’s trapped in an underwater video game! Enveloped by rippling waves of blue light, he lithely swims, rooted to his spot. It is at this point, that I understand the Umeda experience. I am in his space (I told you it was a video game) — impressed with the entirety of his work. I applaud his multimedia vision and warn die-hard dance fans to come with open minds (and ear plugs).