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Review of SoftMachine: Yuya & Rianto – Choy Ka Fai

SoftMachine -Rianto Photo by Law Kian YanWhat a fascinating, provoking evening of dance is SoftMachine: Yuya and Rianto, conceived and directed by Choy Ka Fai. Being only on at Sadler’s Wells for two nights by the time word has spread about how astonishing, how much fun, how intriguing these performances from Japan and Indonesia via Japan are, they’ll have gone again. Hopefully, they’ll be back.

Yuya Tsukahara is the founding member and leader of contact Gonzo, a contemporary dance unit based in Osaka. From bashing a wooden pole in a park in Osaka to a dance festival at MOMA in New York, it’s a long way but they’ve done it. Now they’ve arrived at Sadler’s Wells. They show you the park and the pole, some whimsical humour. This is a dance performance and you’re going to be allowed to laugh.

“It’s not dance”, Yuya says. His inspiration is from sports, from football, from the tackles that fly. It’s fun, we’re told. The philosophy of real pain. As we watch the three performers make physical contact, small pushes then wrestling each other onto the floor before moving onto slaps and punches, standing on one another. There is no anger, the movement just is. Within one second of movement it’s possible to see many things, says Yuya. He’s right.

The three performers ramp the contact of pain up several hundred notches. Using the small platform they were drilling together in a show of everyday masculinity before the show started, they catapult oranges at one or the other of themselves, standing stage left against a screen. Being photographed as the oranges hit or miss and shatter, the pictures are shown on the screen above the stage. The velocity and violence with which the oranges hurtle make the audience frightened for the victim, they wince in empathy but then they begin to laugh. The photographs are downright funny. And that’s how it goes, violence, empathy, and laughter, all mixed up together. It’s astonishing. They even haul up a volunteer to the stage. Before sending out their adrenalised, stimulated, laughing audience outside to the café of the Lilian Baylis Studio for twenty-five minutes of cool down while the next part of the show is prepared.

The second half of the show is performed by Rianto. It’s a slow, gentle start to what is to become extraordinary. Rianto is a male dancing and dressed as a woman performing a traditional Indonesian dance of great grace. He is wearing a mask, only his bare feet suggest he may be male. We learn from the documentary shown on the screen above the stage he started dancing as a woman when he was fifteen in his village in Java. We think about that and what courage that must have taken. We decide we know who he must be. We don’t.

Do you think I’m sexy?” Rianto asks as he bashfully removes layers of his clothes, his mask removed. He is wearing traditional style Javanese trousers beneath his Batik skirt. He then performs the most extraordinary traditional dance of mixed gender movement, most especially of his face, which transitions between the gentleness of the feminine and the dangerous masculinity. Each returning to Rianto’s face as passing clouds of which he is entirely in control. He is a dancer who can assume masks through movement alone.

From the film footage shown, we learn Rianto lives as a male, is married to a Japanese woman, has lived in Japan since 2003. He is a contemporary dancer as well as a traditional Indonesian dancer, using both forms together, moving from one to the other. They require different ways of thinking, he says. There is no gender in contemporary dance.

We learn other things about Rianto too. Until, finally, he appears naked, in remarkable chiaroscuro lighting, (design by Andy Lim), which caresses and conceals and exposes his body as he transitions from male to female, assuming each gender entirely through movement. His performance will confuse your eyes, your brain, your perceptions. He is male, he is female, you can’t tell, he is both, you don’t know anything except for certain it’s beautiful what he’s achieving. There is nothing stereotyped or cliched about this. It’s incredible. Rianto turns around at the end to make sure you know he is indeed a male. And, so this fascinating evening takes its audience from the extreme masculine activities of Contact Gonzo to a blending of gender performed by Rianto, describing with grace a male with the feminine inside. What a stunning evening this is.

And, so this fascinating evening takes its audience from the extreme masculine activities of Contact Gonzo to a blending of gender performed by Rianto, describing with grace a male with the feminine inside. What a stunning evening this is.

What a stunning evening this is.

4 stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

SoftMachine: Yuya & Rianto – Choy Ka Fai
SoftMachine is a multimedia project investigating the contemporary status of dance across Asia. The second of two double bills in October created by Choy Ka Fai, this evening highlights some of the freshest dance and choreography from Japan and Indonesia.

Yuya Tsukahara is the leader of contact Gonzo, a contemporary dance unit based in Osaka. contact Gonzo creates encounters that teeter on the edge of violence and tenderness. This performance, bringing together live and film elements, is an attempt to decode the logics of this practice and to explore how someone becomes part of contact Gonzo.

Rianto is a dancer from Banyumas, Indonesia, who specialises in the traditional cross-gender erotic dance of Lengger. The performance explores the tension between traditional and contemporary choreographic practices during the global shift from rural to urban lifestyles.

Lilian Baylis Studio
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R
21st and 22nd October 2016
Running time: 90 minutes with a twenty-five minute interval


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