A certain poet once tried to tell us that East and West never shall meet, but that hasn't stopped many from trying, from Marco Polo to Richard Nixon. In the world of dance, western ballet has been infused with chinoiserie over a long period -- our modern-day "Nutcrackers" bear witness to one of the sillier vestiges. During the present century, the Chinese have danced "Swan Lake," and things Japanese have held fascination for choreographers as diverse as Ruth St. Denis and George Balanchine.
However, the particular kind of cultural fraternization exhibited in the work of Saeko Ichinohe, who gave the first to three performances with her company at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater last night, showed how elusive the goal of "fusion" remains, and how little mere honest intention counts in a final product.
The Ichinohe performances are the beginning of a week-long "Japan: Dance and Music" celebration both to commemorate the first anniversary of the Terrace Theater, and to express gratitude for Japan's Bicentennial gift of $3 million which made the 500-seat facility possible. It was Ichinohe and her troupe who gave the first public performance in the theater a year ago.
Ichinohe, a Juilliard graduate, has studied a variety of dance forms both in her native Japan and in this country, and has won several prestigious prizes for her choreographic work. As the program demonstrated, she herself is a dancer of no small skill.
What she's after was made most explicit in the opening work, "Op. E/W -- 80," for a trio of dancers in garb suggesting American modern dance, classical ballet and Japanese tradition, with movement idioms to match. But though the opus proceeded from a section called "Confusion" to a finale called "Combination," the desired amalgamation never materialized.
Instead, the effect was more of a room decorated with one wall in Louis Quatorze, a second in Danish modern, and a third in late Teahouse -- an indiscriminate jumble with no evident esthetic rhyme or sense. In subsequent pieces, Ichinohe drew upon a number of modern dance idioms -- principally Martha Graham, in the erotic "Duet from 'Yuki'," and in the macho solo, "Izanagi" (set to a fractured Bach violin sonata); and Merce Cunningham, in the excruciatingly tedious "Riding the Wind." But, apart from the stylistic clash with the Japanese elements, none of these works seemed to have either choreographic flow or structural coherence.And the lighting design consistently confused mood with eyestrain.
The one exception was the modestly poetic solo, "Hitofude-Gaki," in which the predominantly Japanese imagery was delicately conveyed by Ichinohe's own subtly modulated dancing.