Transported Through Dance

At Miki Orihara’s solo concert last Friday, part of the La MaMA Moves! Dance Festival, each short work was like a world of its own. In the intimate space of the Ellen Stewart Theatre, flanked by large staircases on either side, Ms. Orihara created an entire mood and atmosphere, giving us a brief glimpse into each of these rich environments before leaving us to imagine so many potential stories.

The concert, titled “Resonance,” begins with Martha Graham’s Satyric Festival Song – a fitting choice, as Ms. Orihara is a longtime member of the Martha Graham Dance Company. This short and delightful work is comical, and lighter in mood than the rest of the program. Dressed in a long, sheath-like dress of vivid green, black and gold stripes, Ms. Orihara cocks her head as though curious, birdlike, wearing a smile that is slightly mischievous. She bounces up and down stiffly, arms straight down at her sides and hands pointed outward. She bends forward, hinging at the waist with a flat back. She leans to the side with one arm curved overhead, so far that you think she might fall, and then she actually does fall, letting herself tip over all the way to the ground. The movement is exaggerated and dramatic, but self-consciously so. She wants to entertain us and make us laugh. The music, performed by Daniel James on flute, has an almost chaotic quality to it that only adds to the spirit of fun, and Ms. Orihara sometimes shoots glances at the musician, acknowledging their interaction as if he is a co-conspirator.

By the next work, José Limón’s Maenad, we have transitioned to a darker stage with an air of mystery. Ms. Orihara enters in a flowing, translucent red dress, running in a circle. She then lies on the ground and rolls in a semi-circle around the stage, propelling herself quickly before suddenly splaying flat on the ground. Her movements are still birdlike at times, though not in the humorous way of the Graham work. It is more in the subtle expressiveness of her arms and the flowing, almost weightless quality she has in moments. She often looks afraid or concerned, and something important seems to be at stake, something she is reaching for. She stretches up with first one arm, then the other, as she turns in a small circle around herself. She moves with grace, but – perhaps more importantly – with unmistakable power.

In Martha Clarke’s Nocturne, Ms. Orihara enters painfully slowly, staggering and doubled over as though injured. She wears nothing but a large white tulle skirt (reminiscent of Cinderella’s ball gown), and a white mask that covers her face. She makes her way to the center of the room, before eventually curling to the ground, enfolding herself in the skirt. It is in this work that Ms. Orihara most demonstrates her ability to live in the nuances of a dance – every rustle of her skirt is significant and expressive, and her face conveys emotion even through the mask. Towards the end of the piece, she carefully removes the ribbon from the mask (though the mask does not completely fall off), and then stretches up, pulling the fabric of the skirt across her otherwise bare chest. She begins a slow exit, dangling the ribbon above the ground and holding it out in front of her before each step, as one would do with a walking stick. She is still slightly bent and limping, but the ribbon, flimsy as it may appear, has become a source of strength and support.

The second half of the program features two world premieres: one by Ms. Orihara herself, and one by Adam Barruch. Ms. Orihara’s work is called Prologue, and begins with her running down one of the large staircases, entering a stage with three empty chairs and a screen that shows an image of herself seated on a chair. This image gradually disappears as Ms. Orihara circles the chairs, interacting with them but always stopping herself before she sits. In one moment, she moves to sit down but then pulls herself up just before touching the chair’s surface. In another, she places her foot on the seat of a chair and then delicately turns it over, turning her body as well, like a ripple effect. She often walks in one direction and then suddenly seems to change her mind, rocking back on her heel and switching direction. In the second half of the work she finally does sit, in the chair next to the screen (which pictures an image of her fists on her lap). She sits but does not relax, keeping her feet above the ground and clenching her fists, while a song plays in its entirety. It is Woody Guthrie and Janis Ian’s “I Hear You Sing Again,” and it accentuates the feeling of emptiness, and memories, evoked by the chairs. The song and the stillness become the dance, and she holds the tension in her body, releasing it only for a moment, when she uncurls her fists and then slowly tightens them again.

Barruch’s piece, Memory Current, is like a release of tension. Dressed in earth tones, Ms. Orihara moves through the space in rapid circles, letting her long hair fly freely. She moves almost like a tornado, controlled by a force at her center that is propelled outward. The work, and the concert, ends in a final moment of stillness, as Ms. Orihara kneels on the ground facing the audience, with her hands resting on her legs and her hair hanging into her face.

Through this concert, Ms. Orihara displayed not only her vast range, but her passion for and deep understanding of the art of dance. And despite the fact that the five works were very different, you could feel a cohesive thread running through the entire evening. Several of the transitions, instead of pauses, were music reflections performed by Senri Oe on the piano, keeping us engaged in the space until the next work began. Perhaps instead of five different worlds, Ms. Orihara showed us only one: her world, using her movement to explore its rich depths, and its many facets and perspectives.

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