Dance Review: ‘Noism’ at The Kennedy Center by Carolyn Kelermen

If off-the wall comedy, space-age dancing, technical wonders, and choreography that defies definition turn you on, catch tonight’s performance of choreographer/lighting designer/architect/poet Jo Kanamori’s contemporary dance troupe at the Kennedy Center.

Every so often a performance rolls around that rises above the routine excellence and the predictability of the usual dance troupe. This time it came in the fusing of Eastern and Western aesthetics, traditional and contemporary styles, butoh, ballet, modern dance, and more.

Psychic No. 1253. Photo by Takashi Shikama.

All the elements were there in last night’s opening performance at the KenCen’s Terrace Theater – earth, air, fire and water. The dancers stomped, the dancers soared, the dancers sizzled, and the dancers flowed as naturally as a stream tumbling downhill.

Jo Kanamori founded his first Noism troupe in 2004, currently resident dance company at the City Performing Arts Center in Niigata, Japan. The company last appeared at the Kennedy Center for the “Japan + Hyperculture Festival” in 2008. No surprise this troupe of stylish dancers were invited back to DC, this time as part of the Cherry Blossom celebration supported by the Japan Foundation.

In his post-show discussion, the tall, lanky, boyish-looking director dressed in jeans and boots, spoke of his influences in multi-cultural dance. For dance inspiration he credits his father, Maurice Bejart, George Balanchine, among other dance masters and rejects any hidden meaning in the company name. Noism, he told the enthralled audience, “simply implies no isms…no hidden meaning…nothing.”

The three works seen last night were certainly meaningful to the capacity crowd. One comment on Kanamori’s masterful artistry brought a humble bow from the director. The unspoken feeling that only a country devasted by an earthquake – before that a bomb – could produce works that cry out for connection to one another.

Dancers from 'Noism.' Photo by Takashi Shikama.

Zone opens with 11 company dancers and one guest artist, costumed in beige and black leotards and gathered in groups on a stark stage backlit in haunting pale tones. They are joined by a violinist Reiko Watanabe, whose rendition of J. S. Bach’s 3 Partitas for Solo Violin is heart wrenching. The piece features solos and duets, danced on and under chairs (designed by Dan Sunaga as a symbol of the piece, according to Kanamori), and with its penchant for dancers in funky socks, is as joyous as it is disturbing. Kanamori turns to Kabuki for his Psychic – incomplete threnody, again set to Bach, and again a futuristic setting, designed by the choreographer. Loved the lamp upstage right, turned on and off by the dancers to signal the beginning and end of the piece. Or perhaps civilization.

Endings appear important to the choreographer, especially in his “Nomadic – a bond of gravitation,” Kanamori’s salute to tribal rituals, gypsies, French chansons, a bit of Yiddish, and, yes, Japanese culture in the 21st century. The ending here will startle and thrill you.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission

Jo Kanamori Noism wraps up its too short engagement at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater tonight April 27th at 7:30 p.m. For tickets ($32), call the box office at (800) 444-1324 or order them online.  Last night’s show was listed as “sold-out,” but there were lots of empty seats, so check for last minute cancelations and standing room availability.


Noism’s website.


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