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Flash 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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