Joan Laage: Strand and Stations
9th February 2015
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.