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Flash Review 3, 11-12: River Dance
Tanaka Tames the Waters

By Bonnie Sue Stein
Copyright 2003 Bonnie Sue Stein

PRAGUE -- Early last month, Min Tanaka helped baptize the opening of the celebrated and renovated Archa Theatre, heavily damaged by flooding in the summer of 2002, by stepping into the water. The performance announcement said to meet under the Hlavkuv Bridge on Stavnice Island at 4 p.m., to "bid farewell to the year of the flood." A crowd of about 200 spectators gathered there to find two stilt walkers and a brass band who led us to the river bank where Tanaka stood, dressed in formal black kimono.
Min Tanaka, photographed by Ondrej Nemec. Photo courtesy Ondrej Nemec.

Tanaka, in true form, slowly immersed himself into the Vlatava River, dragging his body across the speeding current, aided by a red rope attached to both banks. With a cardboard model of an Ark (Archa, ironically, means Ark in Czech) strung around his neck, he pulled himself to the center of the river, the area of the strongest current, then sent the boat downstream, as an offering to the water to appease last year's flood and to discourage the river gods from another overflow. After sending off the boat, Tanaka continued along his red rope-trail, pulling to the other side, head bobbing along in the 45-degree (F) water, emerging only to perform a series of broad flag-waving gestures on a tiny mid-river islet.

The creator of "Body Weather" indeed proved himself a master of the elements. The Dutch company Dogtroep provided a circus of musical accompaniment, as well as a clownish character who tossed a symbolic bucket of water back to the river, as a second offering.

Tanaka emerged from the water 35 minutes after he had entered it. Maybe it was my imagination, but the river seemed a bit calmer in the bright and breezy October light.

Bonnie Sue Stein, producer and writer, contributes articles on the performing arts to Dance Magazine, the Village Voice, The Drama Review, and the Dance Insider Online, and program notes to various performing arts venues. She wrote an essay on Butoh pioneer Kazuo Ohno for the 1999 book, "Fifty Contemporary Choreographers" (published in the United Kingdom), and has lectured on the performing arts of Japan in universities, art centers and festivals in the U.S. and Europe.

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