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Chuma’s Crazy-Quilt Choreography Returns to Chelsea: N.Y. Dance

This article originally appeared in the Culture section of Bloomberg News on January 15, 2007.

Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) — “I love everything about the theater,” Yoshiko Chuma says at a midday rehearsal of “A Page Out of Order: M,” which begins a five-day run tomorrow at Dance Theater Workshop in Chelsea. Known for her maverick imagination and crazy-quilt multimedia work, the Japanese-born Chuma has been a fixture on New York’s downtown scene for over a quarter- century.

“But it’s a very expensive hobby,” Chuma adds wryly. No doubt: The new piece was created episode by episode over a period of five years in venues as disparate as Macedonia (hence the “M” of the title), Albania, Japan and the U.S.

With her company, the School of Hard Knocks, Chuma has made pieces for venues ranging from the Paris Opera to the Halloween parade in Greenwich Village, not to mention the private living rooms of patrons.

Chuma’s earlier work brimmed with absurdist gaiety. Lately it has grown graver and darker. “Page,” while typically cryptic and inventive, offers intimations of the hardships of dislocation and conflict. The action, much of it abstract, is by turns violent, contemplative, agonized and quietly cooperative. Still, reflecting Chuma’s temperament, its seriousness is leavened with considerable charm.

Ralph Lee Installations

The key element in “Page” is Ralph Lee’s installation of four 7-foot metal cube frames. Fluently maneuvered and inhabited by a six-dancer ensemble, they reconfigure and animate the space even more vividly than the choreography that goes on in, around and through them.

Often white panels are attached to the sides of the cubes to serve as screens for film projections of nature, architecture and local inhabitants drawn from disparate parts of the globe. Meanwhile, onstage musicians produce a lively cacophony while a narrator-singer provides a few vocal clues to what’s going on — in Japanese.

The overall effect is one of magically and disconcertingly shifting boundaries. The social and political issues are, at most, a subtext. Chuma herself is against interpretation.

“Some people come to my performances looking for meaning and use up all their energy trying to find it,” she says. “I wish my audience would not have expectations or preconceptions. They limit the imagination. What I do is ambiguous. I don’t have a statement. If I had a statement, I’d be a writer.”

Yoshiko Chuma and the School of Hard Knocks will be performing at Dance Theater Workshop, 219 W. 19th St., Jan. 16-20. Information: +1-212-924-0077.

© 2007 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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