Ambiguity is one of the most powerful tools performers are using to draw us into their work. In the case of Japan’s Offsite Dance Project, uncertainty dictated everything the audience did, starting with when we gathered into the Olympic Mills Commerce Center and were unsure of where to look or what the performance was even going to be. The audience was talking and buying drinks when out of the blue everyone started looking up because two dancers, Mika Arashiki and Mari Fukutome, were peering down through a ceiling window in a series of adorably exaggerated poses.
Arashiki and Fukutome appeared and disappeared on upper level stairways, into an elevator, and out into the open air while the audience looked up and down and followed them around the building. All the while the dancers were playfully bopping and kicking to what I can only think to describe as go-go music. They weaved in and out of the audience while throwing paper airplanes, and in a childlike way, even acting like the planes with their bodies.
The audience was then guided south for a couple of blocks to a second location near the Morrison Bridge at Water Avenue. Dancer Yukio Suzuki began a seemingly improvised series of motions with halting tensions rippling through his body. As fortune would have it, a train roared past us and Suzuki masterfully drew the train’s thunderous rumbling and the rhythm of it’s horn into his performance. Suzuki’s dance grew increasingly compelling when he incorporated three large light bulbs which had been inconspicuously laying around on the ground. At first the rawness of Suzuki’s movements indicated this to be a spontaneous and haphazard choice, as if the bulbs were just there to light the show and he’d reached for them on a whim. So I was a bit nervous when he started whipping one around over his head on it’s chord like a lasso, but the intentionality of the bulbs became clear as the lights alternately brightened and dimmed to punctuate his movements.
We were then lead about one block north to a loading dock were Yoko Higashino took the stage in front of a pac-man-meets-the-twilight-zone video backdrop that was projected over the garage doors of the loading dock. The projection became a stage set for a symbolic paranormal world and Higashino, in a distinctive red dress, became a vulnerable character in it. She commenced in a thrilling series of intense robotic movements expertly fused with dramatic audiovisual effects. At one point projected circles appeared to radiate out of her body, in another moment she ran frantically up and down while the hand of a projected clock spun wildly out of control above her. Somehow she managed to pull off a fascinating video illusion that gave the sensation she was running up the wall while her legs cycled above her in the air.
When I heard about Offsite Dance Project I was nervous that the novelty of the concept would dominate the show, but the performances kept getting better and better throughout. By the end it was a truly unique experience that surpassed my assumptions at every turn.