Joan Laage: Strand and Stations

The Capstone Theatre
9th February 2015

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Is it mime, movement, gymnastics or contortionism? It comes from the Japanese tradition of Butoh. Hailing from the USA, Joan Laage is renowned as one of the leading practitioners of this expressive form.

Her first piece, nearly 40 minutes long, became a mesmerising exhibition of unravelling strands of hair. This eventually ended up as a pile on the floor after some deft manual dexterity above her head, before a stunted departure inside a black tent-like shroud that was originally a dress.

Some less than seismic audience movement towards a free cup of coffee heralded in the interval.

Part two, 30 minutes plus, started with Joan entering the auditorium from the back and with imperceptible pace making the stage, dressed for travel in an overcoat and cap and carrying a suitcase - but to where? The androgynous form transmogrifies into a series of characters and attires over the piece.

The stage becomes an unhealthy enclosed space, then a railway station concourse, and a train interior (static and speeding), as the artist uses the case as both prop and it's contents to change persona on a journey that could be going anywhere: concentration camp, gutter, destitution, fairground, before ending in childhood bemusement.

The music of Dmitry Artamov was well up to capturing the still energy being enacted in the first work, and he co-composed with David Noble in the second. The evening gravitated from bamboo shoot orientalism to a jagged stretched pathos and brutal disconnect.

The second work was something similar to what Mary Pearson brought to this venue not so long ago. Her performance was a work in progress. Joan Laage's, steeped in the training of Butoh masters Kazuo Ohno and Yoko Ashikawa, is longer in the tooth. While the former has upgraded into livelier urban sprawl to display her talents, the star tonight shone with her own shadows, minimum tools and selective lighting effects.

Strand and Stations (both from 2014) comprised an intensive evening of minimalist transitions with a few freedom of expression moments, when she let her hair down. For the most part it was slow parabolic arcing through space and time, requiring lots of control and grace but was made to look effortless.

Overall then, a rare one-off opportunity which should have attracted a larger crowd.

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