Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sushi on the Menu

Liquid Loft's Running Sushi, which concluded its run at The Dance Centre yesterday evening, arrived in town as one of the buzzed-about international shows of the fall season. Peter Bingham even talked it up to EDAM's Friday night audience. Fortunately Richard and I had already reserved our tickets.

Founded in 2005 by choreographer Chris Haring (who had previously worked with UK dance-theatre giants DV8 Physical Theatre and the late Nigel Charnock) as a collective with musician/sound artist Andreas Berger, Canadian-born dancer Stephanie Cumming, and dramaturge Thomas Jelinek, the Vienna-based Liquid Loft produces conceptual work that combines movement and text with unique soundscapes and stage designs. The conceit for the duet Running Sushi is that the audience selects from a "menu" of scenes in advance of the performance, with Cumming and fellow dancer Johnny Schoofs emerging from the theatre to proffer a platter of freshly made sushi to audience members in the lobby, each of the 12 pieces cued to a card, with the order of sushi selection determining the order of scenes the dancers then perform.

Given titles like "fruit," and "birth," and "dream," and "manga," the scenes play out on a long, rectangular raised white dais, with Cumming and Schoofs positioned at opposite ends, flipping through their respective stacks of cards to prepare for the sequence that comes next. Although I couldn't figure out how it was done, the set was somehow ingeniously miked/wired by Berger to pick up the dancers' voices, as well as every nuance of additional sound they made with their bodies (jiggling bellies, for example), or with props like chopsticks (which were variously twisted into an orange, stuck into the dancers' hair, or arranged like rungs on a ladder between their arms).

As Haring has commented, the piece was conceived and choreographed to look like the embodied equivalent of Japanese manga. Dressed alike in jeans undershirts, Cumming and Schoofs were very much cartoon figures, an animated Adam and Eve playing out the dailiness of their relationship as a series of flat, mostly static, and non-sequential panels that are all surface and no depth. To this end, the movement, while precise and carefully calibrated to the acoustic score, was deliberately banal and mostly interchangeable, an outline sketched by the performers in blue and grey that the audience was then left to colour in. The effect was like that of a slide-show where the pictures all start to look the same, producing an uncanny sense of deja vu that is at once comforting and unsettling. Or, on the other hand, think of those traveling boats of sushi filled with maki and tuna rolls that individually all look--and frequently taste--the same but that collectively add up to a very satisfying meal.


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