writers on dancing


Emotion in Slow Motion

"The Water Station"
Pacific Performance Project
HERE Arts Center
New York, New York
September 10, 2005

By Lisa Rinehart
copyright ©2005 by Lisa Rinehart

Amidst the cacophony of the classroom, teachers of young children know that whispering has the effect of surprising them into a heightened state of alertness. Shogo Ohta, the minimalist playwrite, uses the same technique in his play "The Water Station" (Mizu no Eki) presented by the Pacific Performance Project (P3) at the HERE Arts Center. The play is performed without spoken text and in mesmerizing slow motion. Ohta states, "The fact of human presence implies the presence of life and of consciousness," and that action in adagio allows us to go beyond the familiar act of looking and achieve the philosophical experience of seeing. And indeed, this is what happens in this beautiful and powerful play. As the actors walk, kneel, and drink from a perpetually running water spigot, our attention is gently seized by the beauty of their mundane movements. We are compelled to look closer at their faces and body language. What we see is a universe of human emotion condensed into a look over the shoulder, a hand drawn to the face, or a bit of hair pulled in distraction.

This isn't dance exactly, but it's very close. Ohta's play distills drama into movement so that complex conflicting emotion is expressed without words—something dance is ideally suited to. (Even American pie musicals such as "Oklahoma!" and "West Side Story" use the dream ballet to illustrate interior monologues only suggested by the script.) But Ohta goes further. In this play, he compresses entire life stories into how an individual approaches and chooses to use a modest public water facility.

Directed by Steve Pearson, a cofounder of P3, the play opens quietly to the sound of trickling water. The stage is set with a pile of undistinguishable junk jumbled with dozens of abandoned shoes, but it's the lone water spigot spilling water into a basin that dominates the space. It cannot be overstated how effectively the simple sound of water establishes the pacing and tenor of the play. It's the life force that attracts a collection of weary travelers overwhelmed by their own histories. There's a fearful woman clutching a small suitcase, a disheveled, distraught woman, two men who jockey for position under the spout, and two couples who, in different ways, re-connect by copulating in and near the water. Three young women carrying a clothesline strung with dangling baby clothes splash water at one another with heartbreaking sweetness. And an elderly woman who, after wetting her lips with a dripping finger, places her basket on the floor, removes her one remaining shoe and climbs in the basket to die. The play's final character, a man bearing a heavy load lashed to his back with rope, nearly despairs under his burden, but after cleaning his teeth at the spigot with comic thoroughness, he stands and trudges forward—the difficult, but more hopeful choice.

Enacted in slow motion every one of these moments is an eloquent comment on the human experience. The actors clearly have an interior text, but the specifics—the words these people might say to us, or exchange with each other—are left for us to imagine. We watch their bodies for clues and scan their faces for affirmation that their experiences of fear, betrayal, hurt, alienation, compassion and joy, are reflections of our own. Performed by a uniformly excellent cast, Ohta's play is indeed poetry in motion.

Volume 3, No. 33
September 12, 2005

copyright ©2005 Lisa Rinehartr



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last updated on September 12, 2005