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Yoshiko Chuma: The School of Hard Knocks/Root Culture - Not About Romanian Cinema: POONARC

by Bonnie Rosenstock
June 13, 2009
Danspace Project
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue)
St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery
New York, NY 10003
(212) 674-8112
Concept, Design, Choreography and Direction by Yoshiko Chuma
www.yoshikochuma.org
June 4 – 13, 2009 (Thursday – Saturday)
Yoshiko Chuma has been a formidable presence in the downtown dance scene since the 1970s (she arrived in New York from Tokyo, Japan in 1976). She described herself to me as a "conceptual artist with an edge" and was labeled a "citizen of the world" by Jenneth Webster, producer of Lincoln Center Out of Doors, 1998-2007, for her collaborative ventures both here and abroad.

Her latest project, "POONARC," presented over two weekends at Danspace, employed dance, film, music, spoken, sung and written word. It is part of an ongoing dance/installation series which began with "A Page Out of Order (2001-2011)" and features artists from the U.S., Romania and Japan who spent four weeks developing the work while traveling through several regions of Romania. "POONARC" is dedicated to the people of the town of Vaslui.

Her multi-national creative team of nine dancer/actors, writers and musicians were seated at a long white table full of props, like tennis balls, lamps, a large-faced clock, microphones, paper and strewn-about odds and ends. Chuma was not among them. They spoke in English, Japanese, Rumanian and Hungarian, first according to their nationalities, and then scrambling them, so an American might declare himself Japanese, and a Japanese might declare herself Romanian. Then they all spoke at once, in a babble of loud, droning voices, "for a comic touch," explained Chuma. At various times during the ninety-minute piece they put on oversized goggles when speaking; tore up paper and let the pieces flutter like confetti over the floor; and danced frenetically in their chairs to music.

During the Q&A, which took place after the performance, moderated by Corina Suteu, director of the Romanian Cultural Institute of New York, Chuma explained that most of the texts were recycled from older pieces and now recited by new performers, but the Romanian text was new, written and emotionally delivered by writer/director/actress Theo Herghelegiu.

Chuma also noted that she reused some of the film clips, like "Variations VII" by John Cage (1966) and Rudy Burckhardt's "Default Averted" (1975). Works of filmmakers whom she met in Romania make up three of the eight film sources. "New York 1966, present of Romania and I come from Japan," she told me in an interview before the performance, to explain the triple collaboration. "There is a lot of imagery on the screen. Almost flashback. It's a three-thread weaving."

Those strands begin in 1945 Japan after World War II. Twenty years later, in 1965, Nicolae Ceausescu begins his twenty-four year dictatorship, which lasts until 1989. "Now 2008 [when she undertook the project]. I had to figure out how the maze is connected to each other," she said.

At first, the films are projected onto four large white panels (also seen in previous works) stretched across half the red-covered dance floor. There are vertiginous scenes of movement, trains, busy railway stations, highways, people in moving cars, sweeping panoramas. Later, the screens are removed from the three 7' x 7' steel cube frames on which they rest. The cubes are revolved on point to different locations, sometimes to frame dancers; sometimes the screens are popped back into place for other film moments, like headshots of ordinary Romanians, or a faux TV show where three Romanian politicians are confronted by a caller's plea for help in a town they are unfamiliar with and they walk off the program. The most impressive was for Chuma's solo when the screen formed a backdrop of crumbling buildings and then ran up a wall as Chuma loomed large and silhouetted.

Of the arts, dance was the least represented, but came as a breath of fresh air amid the cinema, chaos and other concepts. Besides Chuma's several notable solos, there were well-danced interludes from other performers and a slow cloth raveling and unraveling piece by Ursula Eagley, which was lovely to look at but seemed to originate from an unrelated sensibility. Of note was the extraordinary unique-voiced singing of Sizzie Ohtaka.

"I didn't talk about dance, which you might like to hear. I think dance is always so abstract, it's better not to talk about," Chuma said to me. "I would like to tell you in one sentence, but I don't have that one sentence." When an audience member took several sentences to try to interpret what Chuma's work meant, she replied, "If you think so." Some things are better left unsaid and just experienced.
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