Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Hiroaki Umeda: Accumulated Layout and Median – technically complex, physically disciplined, visually mesmerising – opening #BIAF19

Belfast International Arts Festival kicked off its programme with Hiroaki Umeda’s avant-garde fusion of light, projection, sound and solo choreography. His delayed travel plans from Japan due to Typhoon Hagibis and a cancelled connecting flight added to the sense of theatre. But as the rectangular light went up and Accumulated Layout began, all was calm.

Gentle movements, first fingers, then wrist, built up to more violent action as the light source and intensity switched. Yet his feet mostly remained still, as if nailed down inside the oblong box of light cast on the floor. A deep heartbeat pounded from powerful speaker stacks, white noise appearing like white horses breaking over the crest of a wave.

The dancer orientates his body with the line of light, controlling not only his actions but the shape of his shadow. An arm can be moved, but the shadow remains intact. Umeda demonstrates a remarkable sense of timing and control as he synchronised switching his actions with the sudden shifts of light, and that intensity of performance is only enhanced after the interval when Umeda is set against a larger and dynamic computer-generated backdrop in Median.

What starts as a white cursor blinked at the top of the backdrop behind him, turns into a stream of short lines, that expand and rotate. Straight lines become shapes, cellular structures. Scale is played with, as is perspective. At times he walks off stage and the shifting black and white shapes continue to dance and mesmerise. As scale of the patterns shrinks, the black dancing human becomes caught in the matrix of information and movement, a cog in a giant machine.

From a technical standpoint, the projection system fills the stage from behind, leaving the performer free of pattern and a blank canvas for extra side projectors to paint on him. It’s a beautiful effect.

Technically complex, physically disciplined, and visually mesmerising, you can catch the double bill of Accumulated Layout and Median again on Wednesday 16 October at 7.45pm at The MAC as part of Japan-UK Season of Culture in partnership with Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation and the British Council NI. Note that the performance contains strobe lighting effects and is not recommended for anyone who is photosensitive.

Check out my preview of other picks from the rich 2019 Belfast International Arts Festival programme which runs until 3 November.

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