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Beyond Modern

This week's dance programs kick aside notions of genre and style.

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It's midnight in Sheboygan and choreographer Yin Mei is on the line.

She's just gotten back to her hotel after the evening's performance of her "dance poem" /Asunder in this Wisconsin town.

"It went very, very well," she reports, sounding pleased but tired. "We had an audience question-and-answer session afterward and it lasted for an hour. They had so much to say."

The Sheboygan audience was typical, she says, telling her the same thing audiences everywhere say: They'd never before seen anything quite like her dances. An unusual amalgam of traditional Chinese and contemporary modern, Yin's work can puzzle both camps.

"Traditionalists will find it quite modern," she says, "and modern proponents will feel it's so much tradition. But combining both is much richer."

This weekend Yin brings her genre-breaking production, complete with masks, live music and a set by an installation artist, to Pima College West for two performances. The same two evenings, Friday and Saturday, a newish Tucson company, the lower-case quasi cum aluminum, delivers dance that's "beyond modern," according to company director Brandon Kodama, yet infused with Japanese butoh. (See below.)

/Asunder, which premiered at New York's cutting-edge Danspace in May 2001, features four dancers including Yin, whom the Los Angeles Times has called "a dancer of luminous clarity. " Four musicians, among them composer Robert Een, will play Een's original music live on an array of instruments. "The musicians are on stage with the dancers," Yin explains, playing cello, dulcimers, drums and strings. Two of the musicians sing texts by poet Mark Strand. Een, who has performed with Meredith Monk, is a non-Asian American composer "interested in Indian sacred music. His music is very beautiful. He has new ways of using the voice."

The 80-minute work, "about a highly cultivated monk trying to reach Buddhahood," gives a contemporary twist to a 300-year-old Ming Dynasty tale. The monk's enemies contrive to destroy him by enticing him into sex with a beautiful woman; when he finds out, he spends this life and the next seeking revenge. Yin's vision focuses less on the vengeful monk and more on the woman he becomes after reincarnation. Realizing the folly of a life wasted in revenge, the woman "reaches enlightenment and she becomes Buddha. It's a very contemporary interpretation. ... The masks portray many different layers of a person. We are all the monk. ... We are all the woman the monk fell in love with. There are a lot of images--it's not literally telling the story."

Yin trained in traditional dance in her native China, but years of living, working and studying in the U.S. have given her a modern perspective. She picked up both a BFA and an MFA at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, and she now teaches at Queens College. After months of touring this semester, she'll be back on campus teaching in January. Besides dance, she's an instructor of such Asian practices as Tai Chi, I Ching and "contemplative practice."

"I was trained in traditional dance," she adds. "But I have done modern dance here for 15 years. Both have some advantages and some limitations. I see both, and I use what is good."


LOCAL CHOREOGRAPHER Brandon Kodama started up the experimental dance troupe quasi cum aluminum because he believes Tucson doesn't have enough "dance that's beyond modern." His work is "progressive," he says, and merges elements of Japanese butoh, modern dance and "exaggerated everyday movements."

His new 70-minute piece, trifecta, to be performed at the Historic YWCA, is "highly expressive and confrontational but nothing is really lewd," he says. His press materials are more blunt, declaring, "The visual and audio aspects of the project are shocking, unusually beautiful and highly emotionally charged."

Kodama studied butoh in Japan, where he also labored as an English teacher. His earlier works also had the stamp of butoh, a post-World War II dance phenomenon, with naked dancers in white body makeup and shaved heads. They were presented in some of Tucson's edgier venues.

"This is the third piece I've done as this troupe," he says. "The first one was four years ago at Solar Culture (A Coral Novella) and the second one was two years ago at Shane House (the eucalyptus blueprints of a self, centered)."

Kodama has performed in the past with choreographer Jon McNamara, probably the Old Pueblo's leading practitioner of brutal dance. (One memorable McNamara piece entailed the bashing of metal trashcans at high-decibel levels.) "But this is way more high-energy (than McNamara's work)," Kodama says. "I do all the music, and the music is all over the place. There's accordion, cello, vocals, samples from Japan. It's pretty radical."

Besides Kodama, performers include Jared McKinley, Serena Tang and Nadia Hagen.

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