Tetsuro Shimaguchi's choreography is arresting stuff - intrusive, destructive and yet elegantly masculine

Article by Frank Lazarski | 14 Aug 2006
Few men will readily admit an interest in the ancient art of dance. I'm sure that even Mikhail Baryshnikov, when asked, "Why d'ya do it bro?" replies, nonchalantly: "You know... mostly to pick up the beautiful babes."

But this festival, from the company behind Yamato, The Drummers of Japan comes an age-old art form that everyone - from beer-swilling philistines to cosmopolitan dance-crazy socialites - can enjoy. Masa Ogawa's Chanbara is a theatrical production like none other this side of fifteenth century Hokkaido. Fusing Japanese movement with intricate sword fighting scenes, and set to the primordial rhythm of the Taiko drum, Ogawa creates a spectacle which is alluring in its rawness, its archaic beauty.

Mood appears to be the director's principle concern. A bare, sparsely lit stage is the backdrop for the interplay between cloaked samurais and fragile, wide-eyed geishas. Tetsuro Shimaguchi's choreography is arresting stuff - intrusive, destructive and yet elegantly masculine in a way which is neither N'Sync nor 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin. No stranger to the public's adoring gaze, Shimaguchi is fresh from the silver screen, having featured in Tarantino's epic blood bath 'Kill Bill' as both martial arts consultant and sword-wielding star in his own right. This is dance for the football casual generation. Expect wholesome servings of menace.

And yet this is a show that cannot be pigeonholed. The music - Taiko drum arrangements by Ogawa - has been remixed by Goh Hotuda, the man behind Madonna's finest work: from 'Vogue' to her 'Immaculate Collection' LP. The antiquated pulse of Japan has been given a twist, a pop-culture injection of pure funk which will have fans of the moribund Mrs. Ritchie snapping their fingers in the aisles. I wonder, however, if this is necessary. Might a performance so utterly entrenched in ancient Japanese culture really benefit from a drum machine and some synth-solos? Would the boys 'down the dojo' not disapprove of this modern influence?

Possibly. But it's 2006: the age of the remake, the cover-version. Like a mouthful of fusion cuisine, one might have to take the good with the bad.

Pleasance Courtyard, 2-28 August, 16.00. £11.50/£10.50 (£10.50/£9.50). Yamoto.