Review: Faraway, So Close by Ishida Dance Company
by David Glen Robinson


Most of the elements of Faraway, So Close were delayed in showing one way or another by the pandemic lockdown suffered by most of the world. ISHIDA Dance has been centered in Austin only since 2019, and thus remains a very new dance company in our community. In our time of breakthrough viral infections, ISHIDA Dance’s show at the Dell Fine Arts Center at St. Andrew’s in far west Austin was one of breakthrough artistic liberation.


The dark proscenium stage brightened to strong side lights that illuminated every contour of athletic dancer bodies. All the dances emphasized the body and ISHIDA Dance’s well-matched, attractive company. But what they did!


Brett Ishida (via ISHIDA Dance)Two women and one man crouched together in a cluster, somehow engaged in something. A line of three linked men extended behind the man in the crouch, holding onto him. Possibly they are his doppelgangers or guardian angels or something other. Another dancer steps quickly from the wings holding on high a glass pitcher of water. She pours the pitcher in its entirety over one of the women in the small group. The line of linked men pulls the male ever so slowly upstage, all their faces distorted in voiceless screams as the soaked women begin to wail.


This pull-apart-screaming trope is one of the freshest openings to a dance piece seen in many years, made keener by the restrictions of the pandemic against our cultivated desires to witness live performance. The performers’ silent screams are our silent screams. The performing arts suffered more than other forms in our cultural life, and artistic director Brett Ishida gave the case study of ISHIDA Dance’s pandemic suffering in her curtain speech. The performances we witnessed did not suffer from the roiling storm of coronavirus (film makers should make movies on the topic and they probably are already doing so), but there was damage. One piece on the program, by Danielle Rowe, could not be presented in this show. Some things overcome, other things fail. One hopes we’ll see Rowe’s piece another time.


That opening of the first piece, “Dream of Black You Come Roaming” indeed directs our attention into a very dark piece about endings. The entire dance showcases Brett Ishida’s use of everyday gestures, spoken lines, and acting techniques to enact sequences of behavior and imagery and to create poetic narratives. She taps into the dreamscapes in us all. In this she references lightly the psychological/mythological dances of Martha Graham, seen best in “Errand into the Maze,” in which the Cretan Labyrinth and the Minotaur are likened to the subconscious mind, our deep selves that we may not want to acknowledge. But as a dance friend told me afterward, Ishida participates in Euro-contemporary dance forms that narrate stories on stage. Contemporary technique which is more abstract in nature is used by Ishida to heighten the core emotional and psychic threads of personal situations. This combination and its effects are seen in “Dream of Black You Come Roaming,” about relationships ending or otherwise coming apart. The final moments of the piece are especially rending.


“True Love Will Find You in the End” is hilarious and more than a bit ironic. The duet is several disconnected bits of a relationship with several snippets of music providing background color. The choreographer is Bret Easterling, and what this montage-like story tells us about relationships in any deeper sense is hard to fathom. But since the dancer couple has a lot of fun performing the piece, perhaps that is the message.


Brett Ishida introduced her last piece in the program, “Longing Floats Around You” with references to the classical writer, poet, and ruler Sappho. The program notes declare the dance a consideration of loneliness within relationships, certainly a twist on the usual dance take on couples. And this company is so devoted to conveying realities that their attack with intent, purpose, and love is such that they fully explicate their theme and take the audience to new places in their own minds and hearts.


Maddie Medina, Miles Levalle (photo - ISHIDA Dance)


The dance starts with three couples on stage, the partners facing each other at a distance. The opening segment is the very long, slow, disrobing of the couples. It is not strip-tease but the everyday removal of street clothes as couples might undress in the bedroom they share. But it is full of slow stage performance intent. The performers continue down to brief studio wear for the main sequences of the dance, for the comfort of all, but they are symbolically nude, naked to their inmost minds before their partners. A series of duets by all the couples follow this sequence, somewhat brief, but showing different outcomes of how long-term coupling may not keep out loneliness. ISHIDA shows us the potentially destructive effects that go with it over time. A much longer showcase duet takes place downstage early in this sequence. It is a masterwork of the duet form, as it has to be, performed by Miles Lavalee and Maddie Medina. It is athletic and graceful, it goes without saying, but it is also a marvel of subtle holds and elevated shapes and controlled movements in connection. All elements of the self were engaged, as with Medina’s look of intense longing as Lavalee backs away from her across the stage. The duet transcends artifice to become a sculpture of love, and it goes on just long enough to pierce the hearts of the audience. It takes the gold for the best duet this writer has seen in years. A humorous touch is the black socks the couple wears throughout the dance—another bedroom reference--but they do not slip or slide across the marley floor. The duet and the socks receive a photographic treatment on the cover of the program.


The ending sequence is the slow re-clothing of the couples, pulling us out of our personal histories and memories and back into something that passes conventionally as reality. And the lights did not flicker. This writer would have preferred to have left the performers and the audience naked in Plato’s cave, gazing and wondering at the shadows.

Faraway, So Close
by Brett Ishida, Bret Easterling
Ishida Dance Company

August 13 - August 14, 2021
Dell Theatre at St. Andrew's Upper School
5901 Southwest Parkway
Austin, TX, 78735

Austin performances August 13 and 14, 2021; Houston performances August 19-21, 2021