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Flash Review 2, 9-21: Snapshots of Shunkin
Big Dance Theater Dreams Big with Latest

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

Thinking about Big Dance Theater's performance of "Shunkin," seen last Friday at The Kitchen, is similar to recalling a dream: dominant scenes come to mind first, with flashes of briefer moments -- mere snapshots -- coming into focus and receding just as quickly, to be replaced by yet others. There were many beautiful scenes in "Shunkin" to at least momentarily displace nightmarish visions of airplanes piercing buildings, for which I was grateful.

Directed by Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar, and inspired by Junichiro Tanazaki's story of a cruel, blind musician's love affair, "Shunkin" is an atmospheric mood piece structured by Glenn Branca and Cynthia Hopkinsā music, and spring-fed with dances choreographed by Parson. While the setting is late 19th century Japan -- silken kimonos, portable screens, fans, cherry trees -- contemporary references abound. Shunkin, a blind, beautiful, despotic musician, was interchangeable with current pop icons such as Madonna. Loved, hated, and perversely revered for needing to be both, Shunkin was tended to by her entourage, and then gossiped about freely behind her back.

Plangent, haunting, sometimes sweet songs by Cynthia Hopkins (backed by her band, Gloria Deluxe: Chris Bonner, Curtis Hasselbring, DJ Mendel, and David Wilson) were the focal points of the performance. The story was a good excuse to showcase Hopkins, whose presence in "Shunkin," became increasingly powerful as time passed, her cadence at times reminding me of Laurie Anderson. Credited with providing some of the text, which at its far reaches examines the complexity and loneliness of power, Hopkins is a skillful actress. Notable among her diverse musical skills are the ability to play an accordion and to play a saw with a bow. Branca provided a Japanese-inspired soundtrack which packed an extra punch, with a seriously heavy bass line.

The dance segments are periodic confections. The vocabulary seemed a mix of strong, simple moves, quotidien gestures, and contemporary evocations of vintage Japan in courtly dances. It performed serenely by Tymberly Canale, Molly Hickock (who each portrayed one phase of Shunkin's life, as did Hopkins), Tricia Brouk, and Emily McDonnell, who was hoisted in the air at times to better fan Shunkin, or inspect a caged bird. Josh Stark performed the role of Sasuke, Shunkin's lover. The beautiful set, by Michael Counts, included halved trees whose lower parts were moved around the stage by the performers, and whose upper parts tilted up and out of the way. A roll-up screen was also used as a bridge, a closet, and more, in an economical way typical of Big Dance Theater. Claudia Stephens designed the elegant costumes.

There was an undercurrent of biting, ironic commentary. Asides by Shunkin to the dancers along the lines of "get it right this time" echoed what must take place in most companies at one time or another. In a sub-plot, the performers expected a visit by a hot-shot producer, who peppered them with questions that must have been based on reality, such as "Is the work narrative or non-narrative?" Finally, when they compare their work to "The Mikado," funding is granted, only to be later withdrawn.

It wouldn't surprise me if some people object to a colonization of Japanese culture such as this. To me, it was just a conduit through which Big Dance Theater could ply its spellbinding theater hybrid. Understandably difficult to categorize, the sneaky power of "Shunkin" is evident as the vivid stagings are still clear in my mind's eye, and the atmosphere laid out by the songs, if not the exact lyrics and notes, cling to my brain. Ephemeral, no one scene of this evening lingered for very long, the end result like a memorable meal whose flavoring and ingredients are impossible to name one by one.


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