For this mime, the body speaks volumes


By Sara G. Levin

With decades of experience beneath his white painted mask — first as a ballet dancer trained in noh theater, then modern dance and corporeal mime — Yass Hakoshima still considers his childlike instincts a great source of inspiration. To find the right movement, for example, he wonders why a fish can dash through the water so quickly, or how a blade of wheat bends beneath the wind.

“Honesty in movement is most important, which is why childlike intuitions are [also] so important,” Hakoshima said, while discussing his upcoming work “Duality II,” showing at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center this Saturday, Dec. 2.

Unlike Marcel Marceau and the legions of street mimes inspired by him, Hakoshima does not wear a beret. And he loves using music with his performances. Having studied with modern dance pioneer Erick Hawkins, and corporeal mime Etienne Decroux, Hakoshima’s work replaces pomp with a search for truth in movement.

“Noh theater is very religious in a way,” said Hakoshima. “Breathing, focus, kinetic power is very strong. But I like to be playful as well. So Duality is basically the light and dark sides of human behavior. Everyone feels like they have a little bit of Jekyll and Hyde in them.”

Accompanied by The Da Capo Chamber Players, “Duality II” is an extension of “Duality,” which Da Capo collaborated on with Hakoshima last year.

“We are always looking to expand in theater,” Da Capo cellist André Emilianoff said. Da Capo, a chamber group that plays mostly contemporary works, was inspired to offer their ears to Hakoshima after Emilianoff, a friend of Hakoshima’s, suggested they collaborate. They offered Hakoshima hours upon hours of audio tape to listen to, to choose the best music for the show’s theme.

They chose varied works to bring out different colors in each segment of the show. In “Marionette,” for example, Hakoshima becomes a frustrated doll that struggles to break free from his puppet strings. “Autumn Leaves” is more abstract, and Hakoshima cradles straws of wheat alluding to a unity with nature.

The musicians, Emilianoff, Patricia Spencer (flute), Meighan Stoops (clarinet), David Bowlin (violin), and Blair McMillen (piano), play on stage while Hakoshima tells his visual stories.

“We (the musicians and I) interact without interfering with each other,” Hakoshima said. Calling himself a perfectionist, Hakoshima added that he received the music months ahead of time, and choreographed the steps only after listening to the tapes 200 to 300 times.

“You can tell right away whether [a dancer] feels the music the same way a musician does,” Spencer said. Many dancers, she explained, feel the music in a different way than those who play it. “I think Yass is unusual in this respect. He’s listened to the music so much, that he understands it. He seems to be feeling it the same way.”

The new “Duality” presents three of the same musical scores as the first, “Eleven Echoes of Autumn” and “Vox Balaenae” by George Crumb, “Petroushskates” by Joan Tower; and three pieces new to Hakoshima: a piece as of now untitled by Su Lian Tan, and two interludes, one by Joan Tower, and one by Eric Moe.

“Autumn Leaves,” is very influenced by noh theater, Hakoshima said. He uses a 16th-century inspired costume and mask that he made himself that symbolizes a woman bringing in the harvest. Live music is important, because it “makes the movement become more illuminating” for the audience.

For him, connecting to an everyday audience has always been a challenge.

“Most of mime is canned laughter,” Hakoshima said. “So if no one laughs, there’s an enormous tension with the audience. It’s like a death sentence.” Hakoshima hopes that the live music connects people to his movement in a different way.

“If you wear a mask, your body has to bring out more energy,” Hakoshima said. “Because my face is not the important part, I put more emphasis on the body, and the power that comes out of it. Don’t think about mimes that you have seen on the street. [I am] trying to see how the body can make poetry and create a mind landscape, and a simple story.”