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Review 1, 10-15: Mime Time
Mizuto-Abura Busts to Move in its U.S. Debut
By Anne Zuerner
Copyright 2002 Anne Zuerner
NEW YORK -- Mizuto-Abura
Mime Company of Japan crashed through the walls of theatrical tradition
in its U.S. debut Friday at Japan Society. "Soup," an evening-length
work (on the short side at 40 minutes), chronicles the slippery
world of two central male characters who become tangled in space
and time while slurping from glistening spoons. Three men and one
woman, dressed in black coats, pants, and the occasional vest and
white shirt, speed race into a restaurant, along a lively cab ride,
through a home with menacing inanimate objects, and past dancing
bowls and skipping spoons before landing us sadly back in our seats,
where inanimate objects stay put.
The four actor/dancer/choreographers
of Mizuto-Abura -- Momoko Fujita, Shuji Onodera, Reina Suga and
Jun Takahashi -- move far beyond the traditional strictures of mime.
Among their many feats, they manage to successfully shatter the
audience's point of view into bits, revealing one event from many
angles simultaneously. The effect is cinematic, pairing the mobility
of the camera with the immediacy of the stage. As a man peers into
his soup bowl, he notices something strange swimming through the
tasty broth. At the same time, we see another man rippling through
space on the other side of the stage, but we know his dance floor
is made of porcelain and not marley; he is swimming in the soup.
While our four actors ride in the same cab, they are dispersed about
the stage on chairs, yet we know we are watching one car when they
all lurch forward as the driver slams on the breaks, and jump when
the car goes over a bump. When one man roles down his window, another's
paper flies into his face.
In one extraordinary
sequence, a man moves about his home, making tea and reading books,
while actors become bookcases that spiral and fan when their owner
is not looking, and doors that swing back a little too hard when
pushed. One of our main characters runs about his house in pursuit
of his ringing telephone until time slows down and another actor
lifts him into a horizontal position, so that he floats toward the
receiver as it flies away from him. A moment later, he is flung
back into a horizontal position, yet this time his feet tread upon
the back wall of the stage and we realize we are watching him from
above as he approaches a chair that is slowly sliding away from
him. At the same time, we see him from the front, as another actor
depicts the same event center stage. A light on the bank wall emanates
from the upper right corner, like sunlight spreading across a floor,
adding brilliance to an ingenious image.
The dancer/actors of
Mizuto-Abura Mime Company portray a world where humans are always
at the mercy of the objects they desire to manipulate. When they
are not lifting tea kettles or handling spoons, Mizuto-Abura dance
with the finesse of Gene Kelly. Their dance steps are not virtuosic.
They walk, run, shift weight, jump, and fall to the floor. Yet these
simple movements are strung together into exciting rhythmic phrases
and then infused with so much momentum, they seem like they could
fly off the stage at any moment.
"Soup" moves seamlessly
between settings with a specific context, like a restaurant, or
cab, and pure dance sections that focus on movement itself, without
referring to context. Props like tables and chairs glide onto the
stage, effortlessly woven into the choreography. Because of this
exchange between identifiable place and abstract dance sections,
the moments where dance begins and mime ends blend together until
all definitions of literal or abstract movement are destroyed. Mime
becomes dancing, dancing becomes reading, and a table comes alive.
The company's timing
is so precise, the performers seem to mold time with their bare
hands. Their reactions are dead-on, and their facial expressions
have all the pliancy of a Disney cartoon, from dead pan to astonishment.
They are movement for the whole family. Anyone from age seven to
80 would find delight in the crispness of this ensemble's physical
comedy and the magic with which it bestows the material world.
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