Review: Pollen Revolution @ Asia TOPA

3 March 2020

Despite being younger than his mentors, Akira Kasai is considered to be one of the most established figures of butoh, starting his own studio in Japan before studying Eurythmy (expressive movement art) in Germany. Kasai’s wide range of influences is evident in Pollen Revolution, brought for the first time to the Melbourne stage by Dancehouse Theatre. Choreographed by Kasai and performed by his son, Mitsutake, Pollen Revolution provides an engaging solo performance that shifts between the classic and the modern, the traditional and the radical.

Pollen Revolution can be divided into three acts, with Mitsutake Kasai morphing from Japanese kabuki theatre, to contemporary dance, to finally, hip-hop. However, this transition isn’t depicted without its growing pains. At one point, Kasai performs a kabuki dance—a traditional Japanese theatre form—only to be interrupted by harsh, electronic sounds. Later, he recites a poem by Goethe, The King of Thule. Translated into Japanese, the poem about a dying monarch encapsulates Pollen Revolution’s willingness to interrogate ideas of tradition. Revolution is inevitable and it will first cause damage to what we believe to be sacred.

Akira Kasai makes use of costumes and lighting as well as movement and spoken word to highlight these explorations of form. The dancer sheds costumes like past lives, changing from embroidered Kimono to the white suit of the Western pop-star. 

Another moment sees the stage lights tower over Mitsutake like streetlamps, placing him at a figurative crossroads, before quickly shifting into a faster, disjointed rhythm.

Audiences will occasionally find themselves under these very lights, and Mitsutake Kasai isn’t afraid to confront his observer, often moving himself towards the front row to make direct eye contact. Despite his ever-moving, frenzied choreography, this is never a passive performer.

In fact, Mitsutake Kasai pushes his body to the extreme; twisting limbs, moving in exertion, falling to the ground. At one point, the dancer mimes balancing on a tightrope, trying not to fall from one side or another, before slamming inevitably towards the ground. Through controlled movement and skilful choreography, Kasai imparts the feeling of a body in constant free-fall, fighting against invisible opposition. Although the costumes and identities shift, feelings of unrest remain throughout. 

In Goethe’s poem, the ageing king, kept in a state of his own imprisonment by a golden goblet, plunges the cup into the sea before finally dying. At the end of Pollen Revolution, golden glitter surrounds the dancer as he falls to the ground for the last time. The room darkens, a sole, red spotlight remains shining on Mitsutake’s chest, heaving with the force of his beating heart. It feels almost cathartic.

Farrago Magazine extends its thanks to Dancehouse and Daido Hiroyasu for providing the accompanying photo. 

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