writers on dancing


Otaku Strikes!

"Mars: Conquest of the Galaxy II"
Japan Society
New York, NY
February 24, 2005

By Leigh Witchel
copyright ©2005 by Leigh Witchel

Okay, you know what anime is; you may also know manga. Now what’s otaku? Otaku is a Japanese word describing someone obsessed, usually with an aspect of Japanese pop culture like video games or anime. Japan Society has brought us an entire festival, “Cool Japan: Otaku Strikes!” with the all-male troupe Condors as one of the dance offerings.

The Japan Society has the cool, tranquil atmosphere of a Japanese pavilion in its public lobbies with reflecting pools and gently curved wooden benches, but the theater is strictly utilitarian and western. In the same way, if you’re expecting any echoes of traditional Japanese culture at this performance, abandon them as you enter the theater. This is exuberantly pop.

“Mars: Conquest of the Galaxy II” is less of a dance and more of a series of skits; a Japanese “Kids in the Hall” complete with jumpy film shorts projected on the back screen and boys in hideous drag. One skit was a helpful introduction to the Japanese culture of today, with the Kabuki performer and the Geisha being replaced by the Japanese salaryman and high-school girl who conduct a transaction via text message involving the sale of her panties. In the midst of this, the otaku boy wanders in obliviously, carrying his anime figures. Much of it is crassly funny but some cultural references that were hilarious to the Japanese in the audience get lost in translation.

The dance portions of the evening are athletic and macho, leaps and kicks inspired by martial arts. Occasionally there’s a unison dance right out of a music video—in fact the one I recall most vividly was from one of the films projected on the back screen. The music is mostly ‘60s and ‘70s Glam Rock played at eardrum-busting levels; some of it brings back nostalgic memories, others nostalgic horror. Queen, for instance: Condors danced their finale to “Fat Bottomed Girls”, a song that doesn’t qualify as “so bad it’s good” and instead brings back shrieking memories of feathered hair and Qiana shirts. Condors believes in Glam; they treated “Fat Bottom Girls” as if it were a genuine anthem.

There are western choreographers looking at the same era; see Stanley Love’s work if you’d like to see an American take on the same kitsch with a similar sketch format. But Japanese pop is fascinating to the West because it’s our pop transplanted and handed back to us recognizable but completely transformed.

Volume 3, No. 9
February 21, 2005

copyright ©2005 Leigh Witchel


DanceView Times

What's On This Week
Index of Reviews
Index of Writers

Back Issues
About Us


Mindy Aloff
Dale Brauner
Mary Cargill
Christopher Correa
Clare Croft
Nancy Dalva
Rita Felciano
Marc Haegeman
George Jackson
Gia Kourlas
Alan M. Kriegsman
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Sandi Kurtz
Alexander Meinertz
Tehreema Mitha
Gay Morris
Ann Murphy
Paul Parish
John Percival
Tom Phillips
Susan Reiter
Jane Simpson
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
Lisa Traiger
Meital Waibsnaider

Kathrine Sorley Walker
Leigh Witchel


The Autumn Issue of DanceView is OUT! (Our subscription link is working again, so it's easy to subscribe on line!)

Robert Greskovic reviews two new DVDs of Fonteyn dancing "Sleeping Beauty" and "Cinderella"

Mary Cargill on last summer's Ashton Celebration

Profile of Gililian Murphy, reviews of the ABT Spring season, springtime in Paris, reports from London and San Francisco

DanceView is available by subscription ONLY. Don't miss it. It's a good read.  Black and white, 48 pages, no ads. Subscribe today!

DanceView is published quarterly (January, April, July and October) in Washington, D.C. Address all correspondence to:

P.O. Box 34435
Washington, D.C. 20043
last updated on January31, 2005