Japanese dancer Kaori Ito threads her body into a three-dimensional loom onstage, suspended in space, like a graceful creature stuck in a spider’s web. She moves in every direction: sometimes hanging upside down, sometimes ascending perpendicular to the stage, entwined and constrained by a pliable cage of 5,700 nylon strings strung vertically in a cube at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).
Her genre-busting performance is Plexus, a collaboration with French director Aurélien Bory, making its US debut as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival. It’s the third piece Bory has staged for Brooklyn audiences during the annual celebration of emerging art. Les sept planches de la ruse (2008) featured acrobats scaling giant, geometric boards, and Sans Objet (2012) was an alternately scary and delightful pas de troix between two dancers and a huge, industrial robot. Plexus, another piece pitting humans against physics, runs through November 13 at BAM’s Harvey Theater.
“You don’t really understand in the beginning what you are watching,” Bory tells The Creators Project. It’s not totally apparent from the audience that Ito is ensconced in string. “What is it? Is it smoke? Is it water? Is it rain? It’s kind of an optical-physical illusion to watch this piece. And when Kaori begins to float in the space, literally, you lose all your references.”
The gravity-defying choreography in Plexus emerged out of nearly a year's worth of experimentation. “I remember the first time Kaori entered the threads. We did a one-hour improvisation, and afterward she said to me, ‘Oh, it is like I have always been dancing in that space.’ I took that as a very good sign,” Bory says. It was an intimate collaboration between dancer and director, who spent weeks at a time exploring possible movements. “Only when we have really tried everything, could I start to write the show, to decide on the choreography,” he explains.
The strings at once constrain and support Ito’s movements, and Plexus (Latin for “intertwining”) explores a multitude of metaphors. Bory explains that when she’s onstage, Ito is literally trapped within the performance space. She’s akin to a puppet, manipulated by threads that limit her freedom of movement. And yet, Bory also cites the power of puppet theater, an ancient art capable of expressing that which human performers cannot. Arno Veyrat’s perception-altering lighting transports Ito between fantastical environments. Inventive audio—Bory decided to install microphones on the onstage strings—makes it seem like Plexus is a living, breathing organism.
“At the end of the show, people usually don’t leave the room. They stay to try to understand what is going on. They approach the stage, even go onstage, to try to touch the strings. It’s very funny, actually, but I understand the impulse, because you lose your references,” Bory says. “It’s a very visual, strange, alive experience.”
Plexus runs through November 13 at BAM’s Harvey Theater in Brooklyn. To purchase tickets, click here.