Nobuyuki Hanabusa stepped on to the stage dressed all in black like a beat poet and slipped behind a small rig that looked like a DJ booth. On it were a camera and a small projector tied digitally to the large screen the whole audience could see. With the flick of a finger he turned on the projections, moving circles and morphing spirals and words reminiscent of the credits we see during films. But more interactive. And just like that we were at a live performance that had movie credits.
The contemporary dance company Enra was at the North Shore Center for Performing Arts in Skokie for a single show on Saturday night, one of only four stops on their North American tour. They came to perform their show Proxima. a series of dance numbers that explores great films, astronomy, geometry, culture, elements of nature and more. But this group from Japan is pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a contemporary dance company, as aspects of their show explore other performative techniques, such as martial arts (Capoeira even), circus (via juggling a diabolo and poi) and rhythmic gymnastics (ribbon). These disparate styles of expression at first seem to stand out as arbitrary devices, but the common element in all of the pieces is a giant projection screen and the projection art and music of creative director Nobuyuki Hanabusa. Hanabusa uses the projections sometimes to augment the actions of the dancers, sometimes to beleaguer them (as with one scene where his projected hands control the ballerina) and sometimes to create a beautiful world full of adventures that we all can immerse ourselves in.
Enra first became a phenomenon four years ago with their appearance on “America’s Got Talent” and they have been touring the world since with their high-tech show. Although the expressiveness of the music and digital media occasionally becomes so heavily laden with symbolic imagery that it’s on the verge of being trite, that sense rarely lingers because the stunning abilities of each artist soon win us over.
Tachun is an exquisitely complex dancer who draws on hip hop, street dance and breakdance to highlight his ‘animation dance’ style. Whether he ran up stairs on the screen or partook in an old soft shoe number for the encore with Kazunori Ishide, he always had perfect control and that sense of lightness that makes a dancer so captivating to watch.
Ishide has a sometimes pensive and powerful presence, especially when doing martial arts style dancing. But in other numbers, he appears to be so comfortable in his bones that his dancing comes across in an easy, reassuring and loose-limbed manner like hip hop artists.
As the winner of the International Jugglers Associations gold medal in 2015, Yusaku Mochizuki is the world’s top diabolo artist. He is a breathtaking performer, melding dance and diabolo spinning perfectly, and his glowing diabolos (and sometimes glowing poi) augment the digital images, making the lights and textures seem three dimensional. His speed and precision with diabolo combined with the expressiveness of dance create a unique fusion between artist and object.
Maki Yokoyama is a powerhouse of dance, martial arts training and most notably rhythmic gymnastics grace and energy. She flits around with her ribbon like a fairy one instant, creating bursts of light and energy, and appears to be fending off geometric-shaped attacks the next with thrusting palms and high kicks.
Saya Watatani is a ballerina with poise and power who is flexible enough as an artist to switch to contemporary dance in several scenes. In the powerful dance Pleiades she and Yokoyama mirror each other’s movements in white dresses and pass around the Pleiades constellation like it is a malleable ball of light whose energy can be transferred and played with.
These five artists come from different places stylistically, but it is fascinating to see their performances overlap and mingle, changing their work from mere solo expressions of art to collaborative and complex structures. Ballet and Capoeira echoing each other on the stage is something you won’t easily forget. Their work rarely displays personal interactions, but rather faces outward, affording the artists the chance to express their meanings directly to the audience. Yet, it is in those quiet moments of connection, when one tap dancer looks at another and smiles, that we see the joy they share in their parallel dances.