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Kentaro: Discovering the Body through Hip-Hop

Sanjukta Wagh


The outstanding feature of the performance by the contemporary Japanese dancer and choreographer, Kentaro at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Mumbai on 20th March 2012, was the man himself. He kept the audience glued to their seats with his sheer energy. At no point did the spectator have a clue of what to expect from this versatile performer. Just as he seemed busy displaying his dazzling street and hip hop techniques, the performance would suddenly overturn to reveal a child discovering his body and the world at large. The youth culture of dance clubs was evoked in mime and movement. The musical scores which ranged from pop to digitalized sounds seemed to reflect the variety of moods that the dance sought to portray. The dancer and the dance seemed to pose a challenge to spectator about how to view a performance. Just as the audience began to enjoy an energetic intro to a hip hop groove, the music would fade into sparse sounds as the hip hop movement continued, making it look more like frenzy than a neat display of technique or skill. Then, just as one seemed to enter this mode of viewership, the dancer would address the audience through speech or mime.

At many times the dancer spoke directly to the audience in Japanese or English, commenting about how his "next costume is dangerous" or asking to be excused for his excessive sweat. There was a very thin line between the characters he was playing [ possibly all inspired by stages in his own life] and the artiste himself, and the transition from one to the other was so seamless that one was constantly left guessing. Finally as a viewer one quit analyzing and let the present moment take over. At one point, Kentaro sat in a chair and sang a song about heartbreak. The catchy music scores that have been devised by the multi-faceted artiste himself, were sometimes executed to perfection in either hip-hop or street style, expressionistic or contemporary movement with or without mime.

The minute detailing and precision in places where the musical notes and the body came together were breathtaking. At other places the dancer ignored the music and walked casually, bringing sudden attention to miniscule details like fluttering fingers or a fist on a palm that would suddenly make an appearance and lose focus just as suddenly. There were several moments of silence, at times in exhaustion and frustration but at others where the dancer seemed to almost momentarily find himself in before getting drowned once again in this fast paced world of digital sounds. The lighting was beautifully fragmented and the dancer did not always dance in the spotlight but in the border areas that were dark and half lit. This evoked images of dark alleys, footpaths, places in the margins.

Keeping the balance was a motif that repeated itself several times as the dancer challenged himself holding his big toe and maneuvering himself across the dance floor in as many ways as he could. He kept falling to the floor in varied and animated ways to rise up again with just as much ease. There was also a motif of looking in through a window that repeated itself several times. The climax of the piece happened when the dancer did his first curtain call and once again burst into an energetic hip-hop routine to finally end the performance, so one never knew whether it was actually over or not.

Kentaro is undoubtedly a fabulous street dancer, charismatic and charming in his personality, capable of completely wooing the audience with his pure dance routine coupled with mime. But what is actually brave about this endeavor is his individual quest for a new dance vocabulary, the need to fumble and fall in order to create moments that reflect the person behind the dancer. An improvised space creates room for the grey areas which lurk around the spotlight. What emerged was a unique body language that seemed like a collage of several influences and which was personal and heartfelt. Perhaps some connected with the performance and others didn't quite get it, but it definitely left one with questions about the multiple identities, appearances and memories that a single body stores. It was truly moving and somewhat heartening to witness a young dancer explore these questions through his body and form, constantly bound by and in conflict with a culture where dance is in the danger of becoming a neatly crafted five minute virtuosity package.

*Sanjukta Wagh's extensive training in Kathak and Hindustani Music along with her study of literature and theatre has led to her interdisciplinary mode of work as a choreographer, performer and teacher. Her year-long experience at the Laban centre of dance, London has been pivotal in redefining her form and approach.

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