Presented by Ichigo-Ichieh Dance
June 13, 14, 21
Ichigo-Ichieh, Hiromoto Ida’s dance company in Nelson BC, takes its name from a phrase from the Japanese tea ceremony, meaning, “every occasion of extending hospitality to another person is a particular occasion never to recur in one’s lifetime, so one should try to make the occasion perfect.”
Kessa, conceived and choreographed by Ida, is a long-percolating response to his relationship with his grandmother, and his guilt at not having connected with her fully as she lay dying in the family home. As he says in the programme notes, “I grew up with my grandparents under one roof. When I was about 16 years old, grandmother got sick and passed away. The last few months of her life, she was sleeping all day in her room. Her room was just beside the entrance door. I passed by that door hundreds of times without going in, without saying ‘Hi, Grandma.’ I was busy with high school, busy with focusing on my future that was laid down in front of me, but most of all I was scared, and terrified to see something disappearing in front of me. Especially those I really loved. A few weeks later she was lying down unconscious in the hospital bed. I finally held her hand and tried to communicate without words. I tried to pray with her together. These 30 years, I can still feel her skinny hand and coldness along with my own guilt held deeply in my heart. Through the creation process of Kessa, I asked myself and my grandmother ‘what is this life all about?’ I am not sure if I have gotten the answer or not.”
Ida may not have found a definitive answer, but in Kessa he invites us along for an intriguing ride as he conducts his search. He cast the piece through newspapers ads, eventually ending up with four local women, aged sixty and up. In Dagmar Galt, Celesttina Hart, Heather Hutchinson and Stephanie Judy he found willing accomplices in his brave quest to delve into issues of aging, loss and reconciliation, and they played their parts with gusto. Another key collaborator in the creation of the piece was Tsuneko Kokubo, a longtime performer, costume designer and visual artist now living in Silverton, BC. Kokubo not only performs the part of Kessa in the show, but was responsible, along with Morgen Bardati, for the costumes, which ranged from aerobics-class tacky to wonderfully ethereal.
In conceptualizing the piece, Ida was careful not to wallow in self-indulgent introspection or self-pity, as tempting as it may have been, given the subject matter. Instead, he chose to temper the pathos with humour, creating a nuanced and varied piece of dance theatre. The introductory scene featured Ida as a narcissistic dance instructor. Using the audience as mirror, with only a chair and a white wig as props, he preened before us, striking absurd poses as he waited for his students to arrive. Ida has a magnetic stage presence and physicality to match, and his portrayal of the self-obsessed teacher was note-perfect and frighteningly realistic. It was a masterful piece of physical theatre, as if he was saying, yes, I’m an insufferable ego-maniac, but I can back it up with action—look what I can do.
With the appearance of the four women on stage—each dressed in a bathrobe and using a chair as a walker—the piece moved beyond a solo show and into an ensemble work. Large segments of the ensuing scene had much of the audience in stitches, as Ida desperately attempted, through sheer force of will, to coax sixty-year-old bodies into doing routines that would challenge most twenty-year-olds. It was both humorous and disconcerting (and a little poignant) at the same time, as the dancers would sometimes fall asleep in the middle of a routine.
Although Kokubo has played her share of comic parts in her time, in Kessa she plays it straight, her dignity and measured movements a foil to Ida’s manic energy and a counterpoint to the rest of the show. Having worked with Koko many times over the years in a number of different shows, it was deeply moving to see her on stage again—this time as a grandmother, a role she now plays in real life.
The only part of the piece that didn’t ring quite true to me was the character of Kessa as a young girl, played by Ida’s daughter Maya. While the performance itself was fine, the character seemed somewhat superfluous in the context of the rest of the show. But that is a small quibble.
The music and sound design was created by Ida’s neighbour John Tucker and contributed immensely to the pace and energy of the show. He used a wide range of tones and textures and hit all the right notes. Interestingly, the sound that tapped into the deepest emotions for me wasn’t an instrument at all but the sound of rain. It seemed to drench the stage in sorrow.
As someone rapidly approaching fifty, I am beginning to appreciate first-hand both the joys and indignities of aging. Like many, I also have aging parents. To me, one of the primary joys of this production is the way it takes on aging—with honesty, humour and some refreshing irreverence. Dance is so often seen as a young person’s game, so to see older performers on stage was both a wonder and a pleasure.
Note: several excerpts from Kessa will be performed at this year’s Powell Street Festival. Please refer top the August Bulletin for details.