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Altered States

EN: 2021
Hybrid performance (online live performance and films)
6 & 8 March 2021
Choreographed, Directed, and Produced by Yoshiko Sienkiewicz (Yokko)
Presented by Ren Gyo Soh

Review by Brendan McCall

Before Ren Gyo Soh´s performance begins, the screen offers a definition of the Japanese word for En: a powerful connection between ourselves and another person, another object, a place. This connection could be brief or last a lifetime, could be intentional or occur by chance. With En: 2021, butoh artist Yoshiko Sienkiewicz (also known as Yokko) collaborates with six artists to create imaginary worlds which are potent, poetic, and occasionally nightmarish.

Yokko´s collaborators are multifaceted. In addition to performing, each has created their own short film, which weaves in and out of live episodes during the 80-minute experience of this abstract hybrid performance. An opening montage combining snapshots of New York City, people wearing masks, and fragments of news reporting of the past few months, contextualizes En: 2021 as emerging from our disorienting dystopian present. Initially, we see all six performers simultaneously in their squares, within various apartments and engaged in recognizable activities: exercising, reading in bed, playing an instrument. But once the ominous music begins, the everyday bleeds into the strange.

The various worlds that the members of Ren Gyo Soh create are vast and far-ranging. Technically, Yokko and her creative team brilliantly link the pre-recorded films with the live performance segments, supported in part by a luscious and haunting soundscape by Alyssa L. Jackson and Paul Michael Henry. Also, each of these six performers are masters of light, creating completely different moods and emotional atmospheres by saturating their screens in icy blue, infernal red, or using lights to birth fireflies or even stars.

There are multiple moments within En: 2021 which particularly struck me. At one point, the extreme motionlessness of Frankie Mulinix´s smiling face and gaze disturbed, as she gently moved her arms and hands in simple gestures. At another moment, Zak Ma´s hands and expressions seemed to ripple like the shifting surface of water struck by drops of rain. Annie McCoy once appeared like a ghost forged out of lightning, and then later moved under a projection of stars to a spoken poem. Miles Butler offered a sensitive and delicate ode to memory, incorporating interludes of family photographs and voice recordings with loved family members. Contorting himself within a business suit, Jorge Luna illustrated the cage of civilization on the purer animal state within each of us. And Rachelle Dart, within a space of silvery curtains, purges herself of a dark liquid substance in a dance which is both unnerving as well as cleansing.

Ostensibly, the performance language of En: 2021 is within the lineage of butoh. Gestures within the body twist, torsos convulse and arch, and faces silently howl or beg for peace. But perhaps it is because the performance is virtual, performed live yet screen to screen, that the depictions of desolation and horror seem to strike deeper. The impact of En: 2021, though brief, is a connection which resounds long after the screen returns to black.

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