Acknowledging your thirtieth year as artists with a show that includes a quartet of dancers, including yourselves still dancing in your sixth decade; a music ensemble, Standing Wave, playing a special commission by award-winning composer Jeffrey Ryan; fanciful design by UK artist Jonathan Baldock; and spot-on lighting design by long time collaborator Gerald King, truly does seem like a celebration.
Kokoro Dance’s Jay Hirabayashi and Barbara Bourget have tackled a simple yet complex subject matter in the Book of Love. The Book of Love is a dense, multi-layered exploration of filial love, sexual love, maternal love, violent love. Often tragic, sometimes hilarious, all elements combine to create a highly entertaining experience.
Based in traditional butoh with acknowledgment to modern dance techniques and physical stamina, the choreography is clearly Hirabayashi and Bourget’s. Unlike many choreographers who rely on turning their dancers’ improvisations into molded movement, Bourget and Hirabayashi create phrases of movement and then teach it to their two long-time dancers Billy Marchenski and Molly McDermott. Shapes like Graham side lifts or movements like Limon suspensions create symmetry in the spacing and blend with forms that are welcome additions to contemporary dance.
As the six members of Standing Wave (Olivia Blander, cello; AK Coope, clarinet; Vern Griffiths, percussion; Christie Reside, flute; Allen stiles, piano; and Rebecca Whitling, violin) enter solemnly wearing crimson robes and caps, one travels to a medieval, monastic world. The four dancers enter in different coloured robes with extended sleeves. Resting on their shoulders and covering their heads are large wicker Easter Island-like faces created by Baldock. Manipulation of the sleeves and masks introduces the characters while the first movement of music is played by the musicians sharing the upstage space. The back brick wall and sides are revealed.
The second movement introduces more vigorous phrases of movement that are repeated. With the masks removed, we see the dancers for who they are, like peels of onions revealing the centre. This is the first reveal.
The women perform duets in unison side by side, slowly striking poses reminiscent of reclining odalisques, while the men shift their wicker heads to their backs with their chests bared, facing each other in a physical conversation.
The next section sees McDermott and Marchenski first squatting with wide, turned-out legs for what seems like tens of minutes, they eventually tip over into a supported yoga pose and then wend their way upright for what is another good long chunk of jumping on the spot with knees lifted high. This sequence is not for the weak, and the dancers perform with stamina and ease.
The last section delves into sexual love. At this point the robes are removed and the butoh G-string-like wraps are covering their genitals with their naked bodies exposed.
With McDermott and Marchenski upstage, apart and slowly moving towards each other on demi-pointe use a mocking attraction driving them forward, tongues reaching until finally hitting the mark.
Bourget and Hirabayashi stay in the spot centre stage, waltzing a dance they’ve done for years. A recurring lift with Bourget briefly touching down before rebounding up with crotch to Hirabayashi’s face repeats. Orgasmic coupling ensues.
Throughout, the music not only sets the time and place but also astounds with beauty. Ryan created the music after sections of choreography had been created to recorded music. Slow, sustained butoh movement becomes mesmerizing as the music takes over with its melodic certitude. There’s always something to watch, listen to, get lost in.
At the talk-back we learn that Hirabayashi is sixty-eight, Bourget is sixty-five, Marchenski is in his thirties and McDermott is thirty. With very distinct personalities, movement styles and ages, the performers are coordinated with a daily practice combining butoh and contemporary dance. Because of these differences, different pairings say different things about the subject of love. Mother to daughter, warrior to warrior, man to woman, brother to sister — Kokoro has explored the subject thoroughly, and each tell their stories honestly and vulnerably.
Hirabayashi’s elder warrior gives us insight into the integrity of a strong man whose life has been devoted to a philosophy.
Bourget’s gorgeous shapes and lightness in repetition fascinates with a movement vocabulary that is a joy to watch.
McDermott is a wonder of physical prowess with the reach and extension of a younger dancer and the maturity of a person with something to express.
Marchenski’s beautiful body and generosity in duets makes for a communication with his fellow dancers that cohere the work.