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Reviewed by:
  • Improvisation Duo, and: Tohubohu!
  • Meiling Cheng
Improvisation Duo. By Oguri and Adam Rudolph. La Boca at the Sunshine Mission/Casa De Rosas, Los Angeles. 21 April 1996.
Tohubohu! By the Rachel Rosenthal Company. ESPACE DbD, Los Angeles. 26 January, 17 May 1996.

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Figure 1.

Adam Rudolph and Oguri in Improvisation Duo, La Boca at the Sunshine Mission/Casa De Rosas, Los Angeles. Photo uncredited.

In a city fed by an economy of well-packaged entertainment commodities, to do theatre is to verge on anachronism; to improvise live performance is to assume a priori an adversarial stance against Hollywood’s hegemony. Improvisation Duo and Tohubohu!, two productions informed by divergent aesthetics and politics, are nevertheless linked in their choice to make improvisation their performative method and substance.

The two productions approach improvisation from antithetical directions. Duo presents the work of two independent artists, the dancer Oguri and the percussionist Adam Rudolph, who have struck up an impromptu partnership to create this particular piece. The exercise of improvisation probes one possibility of their collaboration, which occasions a performance without any overt political agenda. Conversely, Tohubohu! is the catch-all denomination for an evolving series of actions developed by the Rachel Rosenthal Company, a reincarnation of Rosenthal’s earlier Instant Theatre. The title, a Hebrew word denoting chaos and hubbub, accentuates the risks involved in unrehearsed happenings. The multicultural collective adopts improvisation as the conceptual telos for their ensemble piece, thereby consciously defying the surrounding capitalist ethos. [End Page 216]

Less a concept than a consequential reality, the improvisational act permeates every aspect of Improvisation Duo. La Boca, the South Central locale where the Duo unfolds, embraces its quality of offhanded randomness. The many windows of this loft warehouse open on one side to a thoroughfare, on another to a courtyard. The urban environment framed by the windows left open during the performance lends a provocative backdrop to the Duo, increasing its mutability. Such a pronounced alliance with the surrounding environment reflects Oguri’s unique sensibility, as he roots the often excessive beauty of Butoh firmly in a postindustrial context, throwing the minimalist body in thrall to its artistic labors against the street’s traffic, mechanical beats, muffled human voices, and pop songs. His performance, then, subsists on the violent “balance” between metaphysics and mundanity; it is spiritual precisely because it’s secular.

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Figure 2.

Rachel Rosenthal in the Rachel Rosenthal Company production of Tohubohu! Photo: Martin Cohen.

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Figure 3.

Michael Sakamoto, Michael Morrissey, and Rochelle Fabb in the Rachel Rosenthal Company’s production of Tohubohu! Photo: Martin Cohen.

The Rachel Rosenthal Company, in contrast, positions improvisation at the center of an ongoing investigation. Appropriate to its heuristic intent, Tohubohu! takes place in a black box studio where Rosenthal regularly teaches workshops. Lest the audience fail to register the lessons on spontaneity, Rosenthal interpolates a confessional preamble, stressing that every performance is in flux, capricious and unrepeatable. Having seen Tohubohu! at both early and relatively late stages, I realized how precarious the performers’ control over their materials could be. In this intimate setting, much depends upon the chemistry among the ensemble members, not to mention the always changing spectators who literally alter the room temperature with their presence. The company, however, doesn’t explore the full potential offered by such proximity of bodies in an enclosed room. Its purpose lies elsewhere. Tohubohu! thrives on didacticism, combining the quotidian cause of political activism with the eternal cause of spirituality. Thus, while the piece constructs its reality by making constant references to the world outside, it also aspires to be more than a spectacle defined by its germinating moments.

Unlike Tohubohu!, Improvisation Duo delights in kinesthetic variations of mood. An assortment of musical instruments function as the sets, props, and extras amid the crossbreeze and the elongated afternoon shadows. Behind the instruments, Oguri crouches in a chair, his bare body clothed in a black suit. He sits very still, at once will-full and will-less; his diminished physique appears like a wall fixture rather than an animate being. The first phrases...

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pp. 216-220
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