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by Annie West
Hiroaki Umeda. Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, Umeda is the son of a photojournalist. Desiring a more interactive artistic way of expression, Umeda quit photography school and discovered dance. Wanting to tell a story that had never been told before, he got an IT job to help him learn the computer skills needed to immerse his dance pieces in video, and in 2000 he started his own company, S20, and has been performing internationally ever since. So what is so remarkable about Hiroaki Umeda? I had to find out.
Umeda's first piece at New York Live Arts "Haptic" was an explosion of sound and images. The piece begins in pitch blackness; the audience's eyes reel trying to adjust to the inkiness. Gradually there seems to be a blue horizontal line glowing across the stage. Slowly it glows brighter and brighter and begins to crawl towards the audience. Then it is gone. In one electric moment a loud pulse of electricity starts the music, which is a strong combination of experimental electronic beats and rhythms, disguised as electric generators, computers, and pulsing electricity. The stage is outlined in electric blue and for the first time Hiroaki Umeda is seen off in the distance.
As if this electrical surge was the key to booting up the robot machine Umeda, powerful, hip hop inspired movement is initiated starting with his lower extremities. The movement sweeps from his feet to his legs and pelvis, his torso and then to his arms and head. Images so familiar on the computer materialize right before our eyes. Then he is in fast forward, then slow motion and now is a toy robot that's motor has backfired and is twitching abnormally. The scrim and stage glow in blue, green, yellow and red. The beat swells, a high pitched electrical noise is heard followed by scratching, then sounds of an old, dot matrix printer. Umeda's movements have now become full body, and the movement is an organic rippling of energy, pulsing through his limbs. Aggressive, seamless, like watching wind blow a pillar of smoke.
A gasp from the audience starts Hiroaki Umeda's second piece "Holistic Strata" when the lights drop to pitch black, leaving Umeda lit with millions of tiny stars. Within a second, the stars explode out onto both the stage and scrim. Without warning the entire room begins to move as the stars began to shift, and before we know what is happening the audience is being carried away into a world only experienced in dreams and silicone. Galaxies, tumbling snowflakes, and electron clouds fill the room. Hiroaki Umeda is a living stereogram. The entire stage is the design, and he is the 3D object floating in the middle. Although a solo "Holistic Strata" undoubtedly has other performers on stage that drastically alter the piece: Sight and Sound. Umeda plays with and against this remarkable imagery, looking at the whole stage and using his movement to play with perspectives and accent what is going on around him. At times he appears to be floating or growing taller, and at others it is the audience that feels like they are being moved one way and then the other, fast forwarded and rewound. As the piece progresses, the music builds, pulsing and thumping and the movement moves from slow motion to aggressive, full body movements. The screens flash from different eras of the dance until at last the plug is pulled.
When Hiroaki Umeda re-entered the stage, he was immediately welcomed by a standing ovation. Rarely has dance ever experienced video imagery to this magnitude. A translator from virtual reality to theatre, Umeda actualizes what computers and electronics would look like if they were humanized or artistically expressed. He transforms sound into image and shows us dance in a completely different context. Turns out Hiroaki Umeda does have something to say, and it's worth listening to.
Photo Credit: Ian Douglas