The multi-talented multi-tasker Hiroaki Umeda is back at the Experimental Theater in Taipei this weekend with a show likely to leave viewers aurally and visually shell-shocked.
The 36-year-old Japanese avant-garde artist first brought his unique universe to Taipei in October 2009 at the invitation of the National Theater Concert Hall (NTCH) for its World View Series: Japan Only, performing Accumulated Layout and While Going to a Condition in the Experimental Theater. The show, a combination of movement, light and digital technology was both disorienting and mesmerizing.
Umeda’s return is also at the invitation of NTCH, which co-commissioned his latest work Temporal Pattern (形式暫留) with Singapore’s Esplanade — Theatres on the Bay as part of its 2013 Taiwan International Festival of the Arts. The second work in this weekend’s show is a 25-minute solo Umeda premiered in 2008, Haptic (觸‧覺).
Umeda was a latecomer to the world of dance, having intended to follow in his photojournalist father’s footsteps and make a career out of photography. While studying at Nihon University, he realized he was more interested in movement than taking photographs. He took classes in a variety of techniques and movement — ballet, hip-hop, jazz, modern and Butoh — as well as workshops with prominent Japanese dancer/choreographers as Saburo Teshigawara and Kota Yamazaki.
Unable to find a style that fit him, but undeterred by his lack of a dance background, Umeda decided he wanted to choreograph, not just dance. When he realized how expensive the music and lighting for shows could be, he decided to learn how to score and do the lighting on a computer, working part-time in the information-technology industry to gain the skills he needed. He not only choreographs and dances in his works, he designs the soundtracks, lighting and videos as well.
In 2000, Umeda established his own company, S20, and his solo works began attracting critical attention two years later. In 2008 he expanded his canvas beyond his own body to create works for other dancers and companies.
In the two pieces seen in Taipei in 2009, pulsating soundscapes and dramatic lighting environments were matched by Umeda’s jerky, often frenetic movements, which made him look as if he was channeling rivers of electricity through his limbs. His control was amazing, though the battering waves of sound and strobe lighting effects left this viewer reeling.
This weekend’s shows promise to be different. In the brand new Temporal Pattern, the fourth work in his Superkinesis choreography project, Umeda is joined by three other Asian dancers: Cheng Yu-jung (鄭郁蓉) from Taiwan, Hema Sundari Vellaluru from India and Cambodian Rady Nget, who come from very different dance backgrounds. Umeda’s goal is to make connections among the quartet while trying to retain each dancer’s unique style and discipline.
In Haptic, Umeda has eliminated the video projections that were key to so many of his earlier works, though lighting still plays a vital role. This time the focus is on the physicality of color, as the stage glows with the changing hues of a prism — brilliant reds, blues, purple, white, lime green — morphing from lines to overall washes of color while Umeda undulates and shifts, popping and locking, sometimes just a silhouette, at other times a solid presence.
Haptic is defined as “relating to the sense of touch; tactile” and relates to non-verbal communication. Umeda has been quoted as saying that he wants to “transmit sensations, rather than messages” and impart “the physical aspect of the perception of colors” to his audiences.
The show runs 65 minutes, with intermission. Tonight’s performance is sold out.