The second week of ODC Theater’s State of Play Festival 2023 introduces the identity-based work of two touring artists, Jerron Herman from New York, and Los Angeles based Kensaku Shinohara. While the festival format presents their work in separate ticketed performances with a twenty-minute break in between, the juxtaposition invites the the viewer to compare and contrast the artists’ individual perspectives.
Herman opens the evening with VITRUVIAN, a solo he created and performed based on DaVinci’s famous drawing of the ideal male body proportions. Embodying this work is an empowering choice for Herman, a disabled artist, whose left arm remains bent throughout the performance.
Jerron Herman; Photo by Maria Baranova
Herman is a captivating performer, purposeful and fascinating. The arc of his swinging arm defines and drives the movement of the dance. It cuts a circle from knee to above the head as it rotates round and round. When thrown out at shoulder-height, the arm’s momentum generates a swift rotation of the body around its axis.
He sashays in giant sidesteps, circling the stage, his smiling face toward the audience. Periodically he inserts a vertical leaping spin. Like an ice skater, he lands on two feet and continues his arc undisrupted. After several circuits the leap causes him to stumble and fall. Herman rises undeterred and perseveres. (I am conscious of my own ableist lens with its attachment to perfect execution and lack of comfort when faced with frailty or failure.) It isn’t clear whether the falls are choreographed, but his resilience is noteworthy, regardless.
Repetition and iteration are used to great effect throughout, allowing us to absorb the movement, its impetus and execution. Whether moving across the floor, his body like a rolling pin, or taking long lunging steps from knee-to-knee, Herman communicates both the effort and the joy of exploration and success.
Echoing the geometric figures of DaVinci’s drawing, much of Herman’s performance happens in and around circles and squares of light. Bent at the waist he rises slowly, drawing his hand along his torso and over his tilted head. He is monumental. The lit shapes on the floor provide boundaries that Herman can play within, against, and ultimately break through.
VITRUVIAN is crafted with a thoughtfulness worthy of its iconic inspiration. Five rectangular banners, functioning as projection surfaces, hang in a diagonal line above the stage. Their size diminishes proportionally as they recede toward the back corner, a reference to the practice of perspective drawing associated with DaVinci. (Scenic and Lighting Design, John D. Alexander).
Herman’s dancing held me rapt, so I had little time to watch the banner images, but from what I saw, they are as well-made as the rest of the project. The smiling face and beautifully manicured hands of a man are often present, welcoming and beckoning to us. Throughout, brightly colored words appear atop the moving images. These captions aid deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons with descriptions of the music. The phrases such as “deep saxophone” or “lifting flute flourish” bring attention to the marvelous jazz score for all attendees. (Music and Sound Jjjjjerome Ellis and James Harrison Monaco).
VIVURIAN takes us on a transformative human journey, containing great joy and pathos. We feel Herman’s relief and pride, as head bowed, he weeps as the lights fade.
Shinohara’s bill includes two works. Lunch box #3, an amusing improvisational duet, is performed in the ODC Theater lobby, surrounded by standing audience members. With long foam antennae extending from under their hooded black sweatshirts, Shinohara and sam wentz demand our attention. Wentz jumps up and down, his arms extended by the flexible noodles creating loud smacks as they hit the floor.
The men share five noodles between them; they crawl over and under one another, creating new shapes as they go. On all fours, a noodle drapes out the back of wentz’s pants, a tail which bounces as he thrusts his pelvis toward the floor. There’s a high-energy wildness in their partnership, and it isn’t clear this will end well. But end well it does, and into the theater we go, amused, our palettes cleansed for the next act.
For Shinohara’s Good Bye, we are asked to take seats surrounding the stage. It is good that we were previously introduced to Shinohara, as he now confronts us with serious urgency. He approaches a front-row patron. Facing them he slaps his chest and thighs performing a kind of body music. His feet tap as he bounces from foot to foot. Never settling, he is literally dancing as fast as he can. A straight arm windmills diagonally across his body to strike the sole of his opposite foot. Alternating this pattern, he is a blur of limbs and thwapping sounds. He works his way around the room, pausing periodically, but no less confrontationally, to perform his ritual anew. When he crosses behind the audience it is interesting to note that most, perhaps for fear of confrontation, choose to not turn back to watch him.
A Japanese immigrant to the United States, Shinohara’s performance exposes how he is both conspicuously othered and invisible at the same time, seeming to say, this is me, I am here, see me, hear me, understand me.
The multi-media piece continues with snippets of talk-show host Steve Harvey denigrating Asian men’s attractiveness to American woman. Intermittently, a commanding male voice interrupts the proceedings, introducing Shinohara as a native of Taiwan/Mongolia/Korea, before finally, Shinohara introduces himself in his own voice as the Japanese man he is. This series of misidentifications reinforces the American tendency to clump all Asian people as one. Several costume changes occur as he continues to navigate the conflicting and confusing social dynamics of American society. One identifies with his longing to be both accepted, and his authentic self. The piece closes with a Q&A in which he asks us for feedback about what worked for us, as he indicates the piece is revised after each presentation in response to American audience input, a metaphor for his work to tailor his personhood to our liking.
Review by Jen Norris, published August 11, 2023, corrected August 12.
Jerron Herman: VITRUVIAN
DIRECTED & PERFORMED BY Jerron Herman
PRODUCED BY Candace l Feldman & Lauren Hall COSTUME BY Gerald & Cynthia Herman
SCENIC + LIGHTING John D. Alexander
MUSIC & SOUND Jjjjjerome Ellis & James Harrison Monaco
DRAMATURG Lauren B Hall
FILMMAKER Cayla Mae Simpson
REALNESS EXPERT Candace l Feldman
ORIGINAL ART Chella Man
lunch box #3
CHOREOGRAPHER Kensaku Shinohara
PERFORMERS sam wentz and Kensaku Shinohara
CHOREOGRAPHER / PERFORMER Kensaku Shinohara
LIGHTING DESIGN Claire Chrzan
SOUND DESIGN Kensaku Shinohara and Dylan Marx
COSTUME Kensaku Shinohara and Misuzu Hara
CHOREOGRAPHIC ASSISTANT sam wentz
ADVISOR Dimitri Chamblas and Allison Yasukawa