Friday 20 January 2012

A moving magic eye

Haptic and Holistic Strata, Linbury Studio, ROH, London

London International Mime Festival

Migraine-inducing, heart-palpitating, epilepsy-triggering, ball-dropping, but above all, extraordinary, Hiroaki Umeda’s double bill of minimalist movement and scenic design is a sensory overload. Were either to last longer than half an hour, your ears might well expel steam and your eyes pop out like champagne corks.

The stage – a white floor and backdrop that, together, resemble an open book – is used as a canvas for technical aspects. In Haptic, it is splashed with vibrant and vibrating colours, strips and washes. Holistic Stratauses it as a projection screen for a universe of white dots that whizz head-swirlingly past in every direction. In both, Umeda himself blends into (or stands out from) the overall composition, as one element among many. The performer becomes a fixed focal point with which to stave off motion sickness.

For long swathes, he stands stationary, but when he moves, each action chimes perfectly with its surroundings. Despite the fact that Umeda could teach Peter Crouch a thing or two about ‘the robot,’ he rejects the virtuosic for the maximum effect. Sometimes its as simple as shifting his weight from one foot to another.

Larger movements are rarely human; sometimes he’s mechanical, sometimes elemental and sometimes animal. At various points, he pulsates as if buzzed with an electric current, ripples like a series of connected joints and undulates with the utmost of fluidity. Once or twice, he flails his limbs and cracks his neck, looking like a zombie fast-forwarded into elegance

Nevertheless, there comes a point where your mind stops seeking analogies. Such are the sensory qualities of Umeda’s work that you’re too overwhelmed by stimulus to engage certain, more rational and linguistic, faculties. ‘What I want,’ Umeda says in programme notes, ‘is to transmit sensations, rather than messages, to the audience. Therefore there are no conceptual themes in my shows, which I empty of everything that might constitute a meaning’.

He’s certainly achieved that. At its best, Haptic throbs like the dance equivalent of a Rothko painting, even if, in blander sequences, it’s more like a Dulux colour chart. Nonetheless, there are two spectacular moments: one in which seems to refract his shadow into a rainbow of multiples, and another that recreates the gilt-edged effect of looking at the world through 3D glasses.

Holistic Stratais the more effective. A moving magic eye, it fires dizzying collections of dots until your eyes cross. Sometimes, Umeda seems a man in a snowstorm; elsewhere, when the dots cover his body, he seems the snowstorm itself. It looks as if light is escaping inside him, as if he’s breaking up on re-entry. Holistic Strataneeds to be seen to be believed.

Run over


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