Review: In ‘Bladder Inn,’ Waiting for Dancers to Wander Away

Review: In ‘Bladder Inn,’ Waiting for Dancers to Wander Away


Mina Nishimura in her “Bladder Inn (X, Y, Z, W).”

Ian Douglas

What if a group of dancers, mid-performance, just wandered away and didn’t come back? On Thursday at Danspace Project, during the premiere of Mina Nishimura’s “Bladder Inn (and X, Y, Z, W),” such a development often seemed imminent. In a loosely knit hourlong show that spilled from the sanctuary of St. Mark’s Church into its back rooms and balconies, Ms. Nishimura, one of eight dancers, created not so much a world as an atmosphere, a web of activity on the brink of dissolving.

An entrancing performer in her own work and others’ — like that of her husband, Kota Yamazaki, and the choreographer Dean Moss — Ms. Nishimura can’t help but be a focal point onstage. (Mr. Moss’s “Petra,” just last week, included a brilliant autobiographical monologue that she wrote and delivered.) She doesn’t demand attention, she just attracts it, in part through her ability to embody multiple qualities at the same time. An action as simple as walking becomes riveting through the illusion of a floating torso supported by weighted, wooden legs. Details as fine as a corner of the mouth, isolated and upturned while the opposite corner rests, spring into view. Often she appears animated, spookily, by forces outside of herself.

Like other dancer-choreographers with distinctive ways of moving, Ms. Nishimura faces the challenge of translating that style onto fellow performers. In “Bladder Inn” (what to make of the title?), no one quite matches her strange interiority and specificity. But rather than fighting that difference, she folds it into the format of the work. The piece takes shape as a suite of concurrent solos, each dancer roaming around on his or her own phantomlike terms: crawling backward through open doors, grazing bare walls, staggering out from hallways and stairwells we can’t see.

The house lights, for the most part, stay up. Distant murmurs and slamming doors mingle with the clacking and oceanic undulations in Masahiro Sugaya’s unobtrusive score. So do the dancers’ vocalizations, like Jonathan Burklund yelling “Hey!” in time with the flick of a hand, or Samuel Hanson howling, or Lydia Chrisman singing a few crystal-clear notes.

The cumulative effect, which takes a while to settle in, is of a space teeming with movement and sound that would be there even if we weren’t.

In a news release, Ms. Nishimura describes the function of the church architecture, as she sees it, to “protect the performers from wandering away.” It does — almost. At one point Ms. Chrisman, in a white veil and patterned shorts that contrast with the mostly plain black costumes (designed by Mr. Yamazaki), pushes open a door to the foyer. This paves the way for Ilana Stuelpner to drift outside later, leaving the outermost door open behind her. “Bladder Inn” shares a lot in common with the sights and sounds of traffic, the conversations on the street, that come wafting in.

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