Oberon's Grove FEB 4, 2013

 

Sunday February 3rd, 2013 matinee - Azul Dance Theatre are new to me. I attended their matinee performance at Peridance today, finding a lovely troupe of female dancers both Asian and American, joined by a handsome Japanese swordmaster. They performed a finely-crafted programme with excellent costumes and lighting.

 

Yuki Hasegawa is Azul's artistic director and main choreographer; she has a clear vision of presenting works influenced by Japanese culture but which can also be vividly contemporary in feel. With a sure eye for selecting dancers, Ms. Hasegawa has assembled a very appealing collective and the afternoon was a pleasing one in every regard, well-paced and blessedly free of intermission.

The opening work MUGEN provided a series of four vignettes; in the stylized ritual of FAN and in the more extroverted UMBRELLA we met the women of the Company. Following INTERLUDE, the afternoon's most powerful segment came with DOU, a term defined by the Urban Dictionary as "...a beloved one who is highly respected for their kick-ass-ness."

 

Atsunori Hayamizu (above) appears as a black-clad swordsman, his face handsomely austere in the light. The intriguingly androgynous Kiori Kawai (her head shaved, her eyes luminous) seems to be a servant or messenger, and Emi Ueda the recipient of a mysterious missive. The details of this triangle, in which Ms. Kawai appears to have betrayed Mr. Hayamizu, are unclear to Western viewers but so powerfully was the piece presented - and so fascinating the personalities of the dancers - that the impact was strong.

 

In a solo entitled IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT, Kanako Yokota appears as a young woman on the verge of suicide. She eventually sheds the rope from around her neck and wraps herself in a cocoon of strands of yarn. This is followed by a lilting ensemble work for the Company's women entitled RETURN TO THE RIVER. Choreographed by Ms. Hasegawa, this work has something of a Persian ambiance to it as the bodies undulate and sway in colorful Eastern costumes.

DOUBLE HELIX, choreographed and danced by the sisters Hsiao-Ting Hsieh and Hsiao-Wei Hsieh, was a finely-crafted duet propelled by the music of Bach played live by the tall cellist Serafim Smigelskiy.

 

The concluding work, ELEMENTS, evolves thru seven scenes (Water, Wind, Fire and so forth) and in the course of the progression the dancers seem to transform themselves, replacing their colorful costumes with pure white trousers and shirts, becoming angels or spirits. Much of the choreography has strong appeal, as when the dancers rush individually from one side of the stage to the other, adding a leap or a swirl to their trajectory. The work could benefit, though, from some judicious cutting within the individual sections, but - as usual - it is not easy to suggest what might be left out while retaining the structural value of the piece. However, it ends gorgeously with the white-clad Kanako Yokota and the striking Atsunori Hayamizu - now in simple white briefs, his torso gleaming in the light - in a ritualistic duet of birth and the ongoing gift of life.

 

I so rarely have time these days to add new dance companies to my 'gallery' and so Azul is a lucky find, and I'm grateful to the publicist Audrey Ross for helping me connect with the Company. I look forward to seeing more of their work.