nytheatre.com review by Tim Cusack
A black-hooded woman sits in the sanctuary of an empty church,
immobile, with her back to us. Two long strips of fabric snake
away from her on the floor. Slowly, another woman, all in white,
emerges from one side of the nave. She walks with downcast eyes
and immense concentration; following a path only she can see.
Another woman, also in white, emerges from a raised platform in
the sanctuary. She rings a small bell as she moves. Given the
church setting, the viewer can’t help but think of a ritual,
albeit one whose purpose remains shrouded in mystery.
August 15, 2003
This is the opening image of Seraphita, Naeko Shikano’s dance adaptation of Balzac’s novel of the same name. The two women in white are Minna (Megumi Onishi) and Wilfrid (Shikano), both in love with the enigmatic (and androgynous) Seraphita (Mana Hashimoto). Much of the piece shares this sequence’s aura of quiet gravity. The women gently tug on the pieces of fabric (they are actually Seraphita’s sleeves, or wings), fold them together, and lean their heads on each other’s shoulders. Everything is executed with the slow intensity of that first cross downstage. Onishi and Shikano inscribe circles and trace curves through the space with their arms and sink into luscious, deep lunges. Energy that had been tightly contained is suddenly released, and the women start turning with greater force and speed. Hashimoto makes her way up onto the platform—she has ascended to Heaven.
This is all quite lovely—the black and white costumes and minimalist movement evoke the simplicity of calligraphy strokes—and the performers’ commitment to their material is admirable, but what any of this has to do with Balzac is beyond me. If it weren’t for the program note, little of his "plot" would have been communicated to the audience. I would be interested in what Shikano could accomplish if she took on the task of actually trying to tell this story through dance. I must thank her, however, for introducing me to Hashimoto, a performer unknown to me before this. You see, she’s completely blind, having lost her sight several years ago. She’s extraordinary and (dare I use a word that has become completely debased in our Oprah-sized culture?) inspirational.