When cultural dance is a key component in a stage performance, I feel a certain amount of guilt about criticizing it. Essentially you’re criticizing a whole culture. You might as well be a party to cultural genocide.
While I admire East West Players’s branching out into new horizons and forms of expressions, opening a season with the 80-minute Encounters, a dance performance piece by the Navarasa Dance Theater, was somewhat of a risk. I overheard the ushers talking about how opening night the theater was not full. A six-week engagement seems a huge commitment as well.
While I studied some dance in college and had a career in performance art, I’m not a huge fan of heavy symbolism and esoteric works, and Encounters had plenty of both. While it also offered up spectacular tricks on a pole, the next night I saw a ballet dancer perform incredibly difficult movements on a pole with less than a week’s training on So You Think You Can Dance. Arguably it’s what won her the top prize on the show.
The Encounters story was about the military’s violence against defenseless villagers — which can be imagined to apply to any town, anytime. What I wanted was to figure out how the blend of cultural and modern along with scripted dialogue and story would elevate the discussion…. There was a lot of repetition, and the story began with a flashback how-we-got-to-here device, but the repetition didn’t impart new light on conclusions drawn from the what we saw the first time around.
What the dance company excels at is investment and their spirit which coalesces with EastWest’s moniker for its 47th season, Spirited Away. It shares its name with the award-winning Hayao Miyazaki film so there’s an expectation for vibrancy and innovation. I’m anxiously waiting.