YOU TOOK A PART OF ME
November 4, 2019
In 2015 I was a supernumerary in Karole Armitage’s On the Nature of Things. Of the process I mostly remember running sections ad nauseam, only to end up with my band of fellow Tisch students’ appearances whittled down to but a few ensemble interjections.
I can also recall Armitage asking Megumi Eda to repeat certain phrases again and again, which, unlike with us, wasn’t so much to correct an error; she simply loved watching her, while perhaps hoping that my cohort would learn a little something about how it’s done.
It is, therefore, quite the payoff that for 2019’s You Took a Part of Me, Eda is front and center in a piece that conveniently doubles as Armitage’s take on Japanese Noh Theatre (specifically the Mugen Noh, in which a ghost meditates on their former life). New York Live Arts is accordingly transformed into a stylized riff on the traditional Noh stage. A raised platform with an offset runway, the space is bordered in light, making epic what is usually a simple sanctity.
Naturally, Eda plays the Shite, or protagonist. In keeping with Noh form, she has a Shitesure, or companion, who, in this production (loosely based on the 15th century play Nonomiya), embodies Eda’s “Double,” danced by Sierra French, with whom Eda forms the Shite’s entire personhood. Together, they grapple with each other as well as Cristian Laverde-Koenig’s portrayal of their Lover. As their drama unfolds, Alonso Guzman functions as the Koken, Noh’s visible stagehands experienced audiences are grammatically trained to not see.
Armitage seems to take all this dramaturgical adherence as a green light to overhaul Noh’s centuries old physicality with what I remember of dancing her work a mere four years ago. There is slowness, there is concentration, but mostly there are attitude arabesques, so concerned with being high that the occasional arm gesture that genuinely tries to speak to the characters’ internal landscapes is left obscured.
What are not obscured are the dancers’ physiques, particularly as Guzman suddenly strips the three players down to their skimpies. This bareness, which, given that traditional Noh performers are robed and masked, has the greatest potential to converse with the form, instead reads as a shortcut towards sex appeal as though it is the only way an American audience might be kept engaged.
Guzman, however, was only doing his job as the piece’s Koken, and, in doing so, humbly asserts himself as the true star of the show. Armitage, however, can’t resist throwing him a few choreographic crumbs to show that he, too, can lift his leg high. Perhaps this is what she means when she writes that “by accepting the inevitability of change, we may be inspired to seek enlightenment.”
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews