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Rhizomas: Improvisational Music and Dance – A Journey Into Nightmare and Back

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photo credit: Suncan Stone

By Gary L. Day for The Dance Journal

Improvisation is an enticing, yet dangerous, approach to performing. It forces the artist to learn how to think on his/her feet, while taking the audience on a high-wire trip where literally anything could happen. But then, risk is what the Fringe is all about.

Japanese movement artist Ryuzo Fukuhara has teamed up with music improvisation band Wormhole Superette to present “Rhizomas,” a combination of Fukuhara’s movement and Wormhole’s music that is, start to finish, totally improvised. I guessed that the performers had at least a general sense of the mood they wanted to convey because of the art that served as a backdrop to the performance area at the austere New Central Baptist Church. It consisted of four panels of Picasso-esque drawings full of disturbing dream imagery. My guess proved to be correct.

The band started things off with a soft droning sound that reminded me of early 1980’s Tangerine Dream in their ambient phase. Fukuhara followed, not by moving at first, but by shifting from one facial expression to another. Clearly, Fukuhara’s performance style is as much an acting performance as a movement-oriented one. His body soon begins to reflect the mood of his facial expressions, running the gamut of emotions. But it seems that he is struggling with a growing wave of pain, until he is writhing on the floor as if he was suffering a grand mal seizure, on the edge of nightmarish madness.

The band’s music is also developing an emotional arc, evolving from ambient to something more violent and urgent.

Then, once again the music shifts from violent back to something dreamier and more ambient. Following the music’s lead, Fukuhara also shifts, from frenzied mania to manic playfulness. He climbs into the pews, affecting the persona of an in-your-face clown. He climbs over and through the audience, wearing a wild and crazy grin.

It was then when I realized that I needed to set aside my usual critic’s instincts and not try to analyze what I was seeing intellectually. “Rhizomas” defines such analysis. One can only follow along and respond on a visceral, emotional level. One needs to let oneself be carried through the moods and the landscapes of feeling that he was evoking.

Fukuhara is an effective communicator of emotions. Using both his expressive face and controlled movements, he can lead an observer from nightmarish madness to whimsy and into frenzy in a matter of moments.

It was difficult, if not sometimes impossible, to figure out who was leading and who was following in the improvisational process, the man or the band. It doesn’t really matter, since both were flying without a net. What was great was that we the audience were invited along for the dangerous flight. And because it was improvised, it can never be repeated exactly, ever again.

“Rhizomas, Improvisational Music and Dance,” performed by Ryuzo Fukuhara and Wormhole Superette, will be presented on Friday, Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, Sept 24 at 4 and 7:30 p.m.; at the New Central Baptist Church, 2139 Lombard Street. For ticket info, call the FringeArts box office at 215-413-1318, or visit fringearts.org.

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