Wednesday, 2 September 2009

En Trance by Yumi Umiumare ****

Malthouse Theatre
Tower Theatre, Malthouse, until Sept 1 to 13, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Yumi Umiumare is a living treasure, being the only Japanese Butoh dancer resident in Australia. Her solo performance, En Trance, both delights and disturbs with its compelling blend of movement, dialogue, projection and contemporary music. There are moments of joy and comedy that are a counterpoint for the grotesque and more traditional Butoh dance.

The six scenes depict a disturbing collision of life and death, safety and danger, surreal and real, animal and human. Umiumare transforms before our eyes from an engaging, chatty, playful woman in a girlish white frock, into a bare, raw, tormented creature, smeared with white, Butoh body paint. In the final moments, both these personae appear simultaneously when her contorted Butoh figure writhes in front of her girlish image on video.

Maze, the opening vignette, is gentle, poetic and verbal. In Cityscape, Umiumare scurries like a frightened child, through crowded, racing, city streets that are projected on the huge wall behind her (video by Bambang Nurcahyadi). The noise, clutter and speed of urban Asian cities are almost palpable (sound by Ian Kitney).

The versatile fabric installation by Naomi Ota begins as stark, simple, narrow columns of fibre but, with a pull of a string, Umiumare is swallowed by a series of curtains like fine waterfalls of thread. She changes costume before our eyes, dressing in layers of black kimono (designed by David Anderson) and transforming into a dark, rat-like woman-creature scuttling through the drapes with gaping mouth and tortured movement.

Punk Medusa is an inventive and compelling image. Umiumare changes costume again with ritualistic reverence, donning a magical jacket that flickers with pin lights in the darkness. She becomes the multi-headed Medusa by dancing with a video screen bearing multiple images of her own head.

The scene called Tears begins with an intimate, direct address to the audience, describing the numerous and different types of tears of the Japanese. There are traditional tears, a single teardrop, howling grief and soap opera tears. A light-hearted song turns suddenly to a more personal show of grief as Umiumare, carrying a paper umbrella, twirls like a slow Dervish.

En Trance is by turns both anguished and delightful but Umiumare is always entrancing.

By Kate Herbert

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