Once a student of Martha Graham and Eugene Loring, Japanese choreographer Akiko Ishii has now returned to these shores with a brand of modern dance that uses the probing psychological dance drama, imaginative scenic elements and formal movement style that have largely fallen into disuse in Western modern dance since Ishii’s studies here in the ‘50s.
But the Akiko Ishii Repertory Dance Group, seen Friday at UCLA’s Dance Theater, offered more than just anthropological interest. In “Mirror,” Ishii’s psychological drama in three “chapters,” it showcased the commanding talents of Hitomi Akiya, Yoshiko Hino and Kanji Ishihara.
The elegant Akiya and four young dancers explored self-image in Chapter 1, using large white frames to define and focus space. Mirror movement done back-to-back in silence surpassed the usual parlor trick, and figures rotating through the mirror frame created a forceful metaphor for viewing others as a reflection of oneself.
Hino, her face a mask of tragedy, grieved for lost passion in Chapter 2, as her mirror conjured young love in the passionate pas de deux of Akiya and Ishihara. The movement carried the full expressive weight of the drama, and all three dancers performed with conviction, intensity and exquisite control.
A prisoner of his own glamour, Ishihara’s Narcissus in Chapter 3 captured the arrogance and isolation glorified in advertising mythology. This gifted dramatic dancer imbued even an empty chair with pathos and poetry.
A taped electronic music collage accompanied the dance. Oddly, brief passages that featured four young dancers in mediocre video-type dance and Ishii in a walk-on part framed the chapters.
“Anthology” completed the program. This four-part work choreographed by Ishii, Hino, Ishihara and Akiya settled into a tiresome rhythm of short movement phrases punctuated by poses.