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Koma Herald sun 2016 ADF | Eiko + Koma
Koma Herald sun 2016 ADF
photo by Sally Cohen

Komo Otake’s solo debut at ADF a ‘triumph’

  • The Herald-Sun, June 14, 2016
  • Susan Broili

Koma Otake, familiar to American Dance Festival audiences as part of the Eiko and Koma performance duo, returned this week for his solo ADF debut: "The Ghost Festival."

In this strange, haunting work, performed Tuesday through Thursday at 21c Museum Hotel and CCB Plaza, Koma communicated a sense of ritual, and, at times, of loss. He also exhibited, for the first time, his artistic, visual arts side, in his life-size and larger, black-and-white paintings he created for "The Ghost Festival." In these paintings, his bold, fluid black brushstrokes depicted the sensuous forms of nude women. In this solo work, he also showed ingenuity in devising a pulley system that enabled him to single-handedly maneuver his large paintings during his performance.

On Tuesday, to poignant tango music, in the 21c Museum Hotel ballroom, Koma, wearing a hat, black kimono and pants, sat on a stool with rollers and with his feet pushed himself to one of his large paintings. As the dance proceeded, he took off his black clothes to reveal a white kimono and pants. (In Japan, white is linked to death and mourning). As he moved, he cast a ghostly reflection on the highly polished ballroom floor. During the performance, he also used a large sponge, covered with white powder, to dust his face.

To announce intermission, Koma held a white cloth with the word "Intermission" in English and in Japanese characters.

A raging thunderstorm with heavy rain, however, canceled the second half of his performance on CCB Plaza.

But, showing what a trouper he was after decades of performing, Koma gave the audience a taste of the rest of the performance and also shared some information about Japan's Obon Buddhist Festival that had inspired his first solo work. (In "The Ghost Festival," there are some signs of this inspiration but this solo work by no means serves as a direct representation of this festival.)

On Tuesday, with a young Asian woman from the audience, Koma demonstrated the Obon Festival dance in which, through body movements and hand gestures, dancers serve as go-betweens that connect ancestral spirits and living relatives. (In the first half of “The Ghost Festival," Koma had used one hand gesture to allude to the difference between the living and dead and the link between them, as he used his right hand, clutched around his left wrist, to move his lifeless, left hand).

Those who returned on Wednesday to see the second half of "The Ghost Festival," were rewarded with no rain and Koma's performance under, around and on top of his trailer at CCB Plaza.

In order to see everything, audience members had to follow Koma and, at one point, were thrown off when Koma entered one opening and then quickly popped out another open door -- which drew laughter of surprise from the audience.

Koma began the second half of "The Ghost Festival," by placing a tray with large, burning birthday candles, on the brick plaza. (On the first day of the Obon Festival, people hang lanterns in front of their homes to guide ancestral spirits home.) Then, on his stomach, Koma pulled himself under the trailer except for his legs -- a move that could signify entering the underworld realm of the dead.

When he emerged, he moved around one side of the trailer where two paintings were displayed and on the other side where the rest of the performance took place on the plaza and trailer roof.

Before climbing a ladder to the roof, he turned a larger-than-life painting on its side and placed the tray of burning candles in front of it.

Once on top of the roof, he hoisted a white flag. On his knees, he looked down at the painting, called to it then used his pulley system to raise it close enough for him to grasp the long, black hair attached to the painting, pull it off and tuck it into his black kimono as he assumed a prone position on top of the trailer.

The dance ended as Koma stood and leaned against the flagpole, his arms clasped around it, as he held the woman's hair to his face as though remembering someone dear who has died.

Then, he stood to applause and took his bows. In the night breeze, the white flag, fluttering above him, seemed to be a signal of triumph for his solo debut at ADF.