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enra's Proxima lights up the stage but not emotions

by Jessica Abrams
October 25, 2016
Ricardo Montalban Theatre
1615 Vine Street
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 461-6999
Dance and technology have a long history of collaboration. Merce Cunningham began working with dance and film in the 1970’s and then later used a computer program, DanceForms to choreograph, while also combining dance with animation. Kenneth King, of the Judson Dance Theater who later founded his own company, experimented with projections and multimedia beginning in the 1980s. It should come as no surprise, then, that given the Digital Age in which we live and the relative ease with which one can take, upload and circulate video content that dance companies would exploit that medium both as a promotional tool and as an inherent aspect of the work itself.

One company that has taken full advantage of the various possibilities in the marriage of dance and technology is enra, a Japanese phenomenon that wowed audiences in Hollywood’s Ricardo Montalban Theatre last weekend, from October 21-23. A group of six technically dazzling dancers and one Nobuyuki Hanabusa who served as a sort of techno-conductor, enra combined a mixture of lyrical, balletic dance with high-energy, karate-type moves with light, sound and projections for an electric evening of entertainment.

True to its twenty-first century, digital-age roots, enra – which formed in 2012 – achieved viral video success after their bid for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic was picked up online. With a YouTube channel that has garnered over 10 million views, the company has been invited to perform at such venues as the Cannes Film Festival and the popular television show America’s Got Talent.

Its evening-length work, Proxima, began with a nod to the techno-conductor Hanabusa, whose booth was set up stage right. Hanabusa was the real artist of the evening, a mixture of musical conductor, impresario and expert gamer. The first piece was an ode to popular movies, and with a mix of colors projected onto the screen, high-energy dance and music reminiscent of a 1970s cop show, the evening took off with – forgive the cliche – a bang.

The high-energy movement was soon replaced by ballet, as a serene ocean was projected on the screen and the beautiful Saya Watatani took the stage. With perfect port de bras and a line that extended into the horizon, Watatani epitomized the grace and beauty of classical dance, while – in true, twenty-first century, post-modern tradition – using that quality more as a point of reference than an end in itself. Watatani’s lyricism formed a perfect contrast to Maki Yokoyama’s more athletic style. With karate kicks and somersaults, barrel jumps and handsprings, Yokoyama was yang to Watatani’s ying.

The audience cheered for the visually stunning way the dancers played with the projections: with dazzling port de bras, they “drew” streams on color on the screen. In one piece, puppetmaster Hanabusa used his hands to project wings on Watatani. The pieces were short and the dancers faced front for the most part, playing to the audience as opposed to with each other.

And yet one couldn’t help but wish for a deeper meaning in which to embed such technical prowess. Although the program hinted at something larger, in the end, the pieces were just nods to various elements and fixtures as opposed to a deeper context in which a story, or simply an idea, was played out. The pieces, visually “cool” though they were, felt somewhat shallow, like video games or the dancer in Sia’s “Chandelier” video: technically stunning but lacking a certain depth and sense of historical context.

That said, the audience loved it; and full disclosure – I am not of the video game generation myself, so visuals for visuals sake, entertainment for entertainment’s sake is somewhat lost on me. With dance, as with any art – and maybe more so with dance given the long journey it has taken to free itself from the bondage of pure aesthetics – I look for a deeper meaning. I want to be privy to a story as opposed to wowed with coolness. Having seen, Pilobolus’ Shadowland a few weeks back, I know that’s possible, but unfortunately, in enra’s Proxima I didn’t find it. And perhaps because the dancers were so strong and the aesthetic so immersive I wanted it. I wanted the movie homage to play out and for relationships to form and themes to be explored. I didn’t want the dancers to stare straight out at me as if my existence determined theirs; I wanted to be a fly on the wall of an artistic journey that traveled from Japan to the United States and back and yet encompassed the hopes, fears and universal emotions shared by us all.
enra in 'PROXIMA.'

enra in "PROXIMA."


enra in 'PROXIMA.'

enra in "PROXIMA."

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