"All warfare is based on deception," said Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher who was also a military man; and romantic relationships are no different, according to the writings of Sei Shonagon, an 11th century Japanese court diarist. These two writers inspired Rosanna Gamson/World Wide's new 45-minute piece, "Two Views (an urban ocean has 29 eyes)," which premiered at the Japan America Theatre on Saturday night.
Despite this source material, some of which was read and serenely sung (by Melody Versoza, gliding around the action), deception and relationship dynamics did not emerge as a theme in ensemble terms. Instead, the "two views" of the title seemed to exist clearly in one impressive performer.
In a series of sculptural solos, Johnny Tu, who co-choreographed with Gamson, appeared to have alternate rushes of molten lava and pacific breezes flowing through his body. Tu appeared to be a lone warrior figure at center stage, in constant preparation for any battle that could be waged with pure dance. With a bare chest and wide stance, wearing loose pants of overlapping panels, he turned martial arts moves into poetic stanzas, his arms stiffening and shooting out like weapons when they weren't tracing delicate patterns and swooping liked birds on complicated missions.
The many other elements of "Two Views" looked subservient to these breathy and steely soliloquies, movement from which was often echoed in the comings and goings of the other nine dancers. Gamson's way of working guarantees plenty of action, with clusters of activity in various areas of the stage and "storytelling" moments that tempt you to try to figure it all out (were those couples making love, saying goodbye or fighting?).
Text, dance and music often competed for attention, and Shane W. Cadman's expressive score often won. For one segment, David Iwataki's piano raced along with burbling crosses made by the dancers; in another, Ray Frisby's pointed percussion made the cutting and squeezing of an orange into a ceremony of sorts. Greg Adamson's eloquent cello carried a scene dominated by the scooping and carving arms of guest performers Jaime Nichols and Craig Ng.
Subtle and atmospheric lighting (by Ted Mather) contributed to the severe stylishness of the piece, as did the presence of a giant silk scarf, streaming across the stage several times, and the Japanese-inspired costumes and fragments of them in shades of charcoal, white and orange. Real oranges appeared enigmatically, in rows that were gathered or flying behind an intense duet.
This hail of thumping oranges on their own drew titters from the audience, a moment reminiscent of the strange mood in the excerpts from "Again Not Again" (1997) that opened the program. Inspired by the siege of Sarajevo, the work used game structure (there's a timekeeper with a whistle) and had the eight dancers bursting into non sequitur activities with forceful conviction (bashing long sticks of French bread as if possessed). It was more reminiscent of Monty Python than an evocation, tribute or commentary.
In "Two Views," stated sources also set up expectations unfulfilled. But it was well crafted and impressively designed, sometimes finding meaning in musically evocative moments and the impressive physical musings of Tu.