In one hand, a male dancer holds a folding fan, tilting and turning it with subtle precision. On his hip, a pistol rests in a holster. It matches the Old West cowboy hat on his head. Braiding iconic symbols of Japanese and American cultures, this moment is arranged in the exact center of New York choreographer Yasuko Yokoshi’s Tyler Tyler, which opens on Thursday, October 14 at DiverseWorks.
The solo’s accompaniment is “American Flag” by Cat Power (sung by composer and live musician, Steven Reker). “I just play with images and multiple perceptions behind the images,” Ms. Yokoshi says of this centerpiece. “It [the song choice] does not mean anything, but it means something if one wants to find meaning.”
Born in Hiroshima, Ms. Yokoshi has lived in the United States for more than half her life. She began her dance training here and her artistic and choreographic work is underpinned by American postmodern dance. In 2003, while traveling in Japan, her life and work took a new turn when she met Masumi Seyama, the master teacher and premier practitioner of Kanjyuro Fujima’s Kabuki Su-odori dance tradition.
Kabuki Su-odori means “naked dance” and is presented without the make-up, spectacle, and decorative choreography typical of Kabuki performance. The subtly theatrical aesthetic felt like common ground, drawing Ms. Yokoshi to the Kabuki Su-odori form. She began her studies with Ms. Seyama, who was taken with her intrinsic understanding of what was demonstrated to her. The 72-year-old Seyama determined that Ms. Yokoshi was meant to study and be the inheritor of some of the repertory. After a few years of training, during which their unique relationship flourished, the two first collaborated in the critically acclaimed, what we when we, winner of a 2006 “Bessie” award.
Tyler Tyler is a continuation of the pair’s work together and puts traditional Japanese dance and contemporary American dance side-by-side, a concept reflected in the work’s repetitious title. The cast of five includes three Japanese dancers and actors, each trained by Ms. Seyama, who perform traditional repertory influenced by and set within Ms. Yokoshi’s contemporary choreographic structure. This time, however, the traditional Japanese dances have also been passed on to two American dancers, Kayvon Pourazar and Julie Alexander (a Houston native), for cultural translation.
Ms. Yokoshi’s thematic inspiration for Tyler Tyler is “The Tale of the Heike,” a Japanese epic about the battles of the Minamoto clan and their dominant rivals, the Taira who, according to the Buddhist law of impermanence, inevitably fall to ruin. The word Tyler is a play on the mispronunciation of this powerful family’s name. Though Tyler Tyler is presented in a series of episodes like the Tale, Ms. Yokoshi is not loyal to the story’s structure. Repertory based on the saga is unorthodoxly juxtaposed with unrelated traditional Japanese dances, as well as contemporary movement, created in collaboration with Mr. Pourazar and Ms. Alexander.
Like the solo “American Flag,” the layering of Japanese and American iconographies, dances, traditions, and histories are central to Tyler Tyler and can be found in every element of the production. Composer, Steven Reker’s atmospheric soundscapes and original interpretations of traditional Japanese music intertwine with spoken text and vocal selections by songwriters like The Carpenters and Lou Reed, which are often sung by the cast.
For the two American performers, costumes are by turn formal, informal, contemporary, and traditional. Ms. Yokoshi and costumer, Akiko Iwasaki, looked through a book of historic costumes for inspiration. “We wanted to make some kind of formal dresses out of denim material, which are a product of the USA,” Ms. Yokoshi explains, “but we also wanted to have a look which was somehow ‘European high society.’ Formality, class, grace, elegance and ‘American’ were what we looked for.”
According to Ms. Yokoshi, audience reaction to Tyler Tyler has been “very diverse and
somewhat extreme.” Some viewers are moved to tears by the understated beauty of the performances and for others it seems to get lost in translation. Interestingly, cultural familiarity and perceptions delineate response as well. “People that see it in Japan think it is very American because they can see the changes being made and the lines being crossed. People that see it here think it is very Japanese.”
See it in Houston. Fan or pistol, the tapestry of woven images in Tyler Tyler will linger linger.
Tickets for Tyler Tyler can be purchased online at www.diverseworks.org, at DiverseWorks Art Space, (1117 East Freeway), or by calling 713.335.3445. DiverseWorks offers a special PAY WHAT YOU WANT Thursday evening performance. Tickets for Friday and Saturday are $20 general admission, $10 Members/ Students and Seniors. Information on group tickets: 713.223.8346.
Reprinted from Dance Source Houston