Review: Spotlight Japan’s Haptic & Holistic Strata (Canadian Stage)

A celebration of dance and theatre from Japan at Canadian Stage in Toronto

holistic strata (1)I tend to be quite skeptical about dance shows. For the most part I seem to either love them or hate them so in general I just try and stay away from them. However, Haptic and Holistic Strata I couldn’t resist. After seeing Political Mother also presented by Canadian Stage, I had a pretty good feeling about the dance pieces in the Spotlight Japan festival.

I watched two shows performed by dancer and choreographer Hiroaki Umeda. The first one, Haptic is a piece that is set to music that I can only describe as “noise”. As soon as the lights went out there was the sound of static in the air. The music gradually built to a piercing electronic frenzy and the dancing matched it perfectly.

The isolated robotic movements that start the piece, transition into a dance that is intense and spastic, but fluid at the same time. I know it sounds like a contradiction but I think you have to see the piece to really get it.

The second show Holistic Strata is where things get super cool and high-tech. The stage and the dancer are covered in tiny white dots that look like stars. It gives you the feeling of floating through space or looking out of a windshield of a moving car in a snow storm in the boonies on a pitch black night. It creates the illusion of movement while in reality it’s just the dots that are moving, not the stage or the dancer. It’s hypnotizing.

There were moments when the dancer seemed like a malfunctioning robot who was disintegrating and then moments of being put back together. The music for the second show is also very mechanical. At times it sounded like machine guns, at others like a TV that was left on a channel with no reception. This show was definitely out of my comfort zone but I’m so glad I took a chance.

My husband who really appreciates noisy, electronic music really enjoyed the show. We talked about the use of the sound and light and how these components actually make the show. There’s no set, it’s just a square white stage with no props. Umeda does a great job with not just the performance but in creating the sound and lighting as well. I think it’s safe to say that this is the kind of show where the sound and lighting are just as much the stars of the piece as the dancer on stage.

The average age of the audience was about 50 and I was pleasantly surprised to hear- while eavesdropping in the lobby – that most of them thought it was a great show. Mesmerizing was a word that kept coming up.

I really think that if you have a chance you should check the Spotlight Japan festival. There’s a couple of dance and theatre shows and some free live music being performed in the lobby. There’s even nights with soba noodles and sake tastings which could be a lot of fun with a couple of friends.

Spotlight Japan is playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley St) till March 2, 2013
– Performances for Haptic and Holistic Strata run Thursday to Saturday at 7:30pm
– Tickets are $54
– Tickets can be purchased online, at the door or by calling 416.368.3110

*Warning: this show contains strobe lights.

Photo of Hiroaki Umeda by Ryuichi Maruo (YCAM).