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Miki Orihara's "Resonance" a Transportive Experience

by Suzannah Friscia
May 13, 2014
La MaMa - Ellen Stewart Theatre
74A East 4th Street
New York, NY 10003
(646) 430-5374
At Miki Orihara's solo concert on Friday, part of the La MaMA Moves! Dance Festival, each short work was like a world of its own. In the intimate space of the Ellen Stewart Theatre, flanked by large staircases on either side, Ms. Orihara created an entire mood and atmosphere, giving us a brief glimpse into each of these rich environments before leaving us to imagine so many potential stories.

The concert titled "Resonance," began with Martha Graham's "Satyric Festival Song" – a fitting choice, as Ms. Orihara is a longtime member of the Martha Graham Dance Company. This short and delightful work was comical, and lighter in mood than the rest of the program. Dressed in a long, sheath-like dress of vivid green, black and gold stripes, Ms. Orihara cocked her head as though curious, birdlike, wearing a smile that was slightly mischievous. She bounced up and down stiffly, arms straight down at her sides and hands pointed outward. She bent forward, hinging at the waist with a flat back. She leaned to the side with one arm curved overhead, so far that you think she might fall, and then she actually did fall, letting herself tip over all the way to the ground. The movement was exaggerated and dramatic, but self-consciously so. She wanted to entertain us and make us laugh. The music, performed by Daniel James on flute, had an almost chaotic quality to it that only added to the spirit of fun, and Ms. Orihara sometimes shot glances at the musician, acknowledging their interaction as if he was a co-conspirator.

By the next work, José Limón's "Maenad," we had transitioned to a darker stage with an air of mystery. Ms. Orihara entered in a flowing, translucent red dress, running in a circle. She then laid on the ground and rolled in a semicircle around the stage, propelling herself quickly before suddenly splaying flat on the ground. Her movements were still birdlike at times, though not in the humorous way of the Graham work. It was more in the subtle expressiveness of her arms and the flowing, almost weightless quality she had in moments. She often looked afraid or concerned, as if something important seemed to be at stake or something she was reaching for. She stretched up with first one arm, then the other, as she turned in a small circle around herself. She moved with grace, but – perhaps more importantly – with unmistakable power.

In Martha Clarke's "Nocturne," Ms. Orihara entered painfully slowly, staggering and doubled over as though injured. She wore nothing but a large white tulle skirt (reminiscent of Cinderella's ball gown), and a white mask that covered her face. She made her way to the center of the room, before eventually curling to the ground, enfolding herself in the skirt. It was in this work that Ms. Orihara most demonstrated her ability to live in the nuances of a dance – every rustle of her skirt was significant and expressive, and her face conveys emotion even through the mask. Towards the end of the piece, she carefully removed the ribbon from the mask (though the mask did not completely fall off), and then stretched up, pulling the fabric of the skirt across her otherwise bare chest. She began a slow exit, dangling the ribbon above the ground and holding it out in front of her before each step, as one would do with a walking stick. She was still slightly bent and limping, but the ribbon, flimsy as it may appear, had become a source of strength and support.

The second half of the program featured two world premieres: one by Ms. Orihara herself, and one by Adam Barruch. Ms. Orihara's work was called "Prologue," and began with her running down one of the large staircases, entering the stage with three empty chairs and a screen that showed an image of herself seated on a chair. This image gradually disappeared as Ms. Orihara circled the chairs, interacting with them but always stopping herself before she sat. In one moment, she moved to sit down but then pulled herself up just before touching the chair's surface. In another, she placed her foot on the seat of a chair and then delicately turned it over, turning her body as well, like a ripple effect. She often walked in one direction and then suddenly seemed to change her mind, rocking back on her heel and switching directions. In the second half of the work she finally did sit in a chair next to the screen (which pictured an image of her fists on her lap). She sat but did not relax, keeping her feet above the ground and clenching her fists, while a song plays in its entirety. It is Woody Guthrie and Janis Ian's "I Hear You Sing Again," and it accentuates the feeling of emptiness, and memories, evoked by the chairs. The song and the stillness become the dance, and she held the tension in her body, releasing it only for a moment, when she uncurled her fists and then slowly tightened them again.

Barruch's piece, "Memory Current," was like a release of tension. Dressed in earth tones, Ms. Orihara moved through the space in rapid circles, letting her long hair fly freely. She moved almost like a tornado, controlled by a force at her center that is propelled outward. The work, and the concert, ended in a final moment of stillness as Ms. Orihara knelt on the ground facing the audience with her hands resting on her legs and her hair hanging in her face.

Through this concert, Ms. Orihara displayed not only her vast range, but her passion for and deep understanding of the art of dance. And despite the fact that the five works were very different, you could feel a cohesive thread running through the entire evening. Several of the transitions, instead of pauses, were musical reflections performed by Senri Oe on the piano, keeping us engaged in the space until the next work began. Perhaps instead of five different worlds, Ms. Orihara showed us only one: her own, using her movement to explore its rich depths and its many facets and perspectives.
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