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Dancer Hiroaki Umeda to fuse technology, movement in contemporary performance

Courtesy of Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media

A soft rustle of tulle skirts and the quiet patter of pointe shoes as dancers take their places from the velvet curtain wings might be the vision that springs to mind upon hearing the phrase “professional dance performance.” Then there’s dancer Hiroaki Umeda.

An avalanche of light and Umeda’s single form take the stage. Umeda’s performances are a far cry from traditional with his heavy use of innovative technology and lighting.

Umeda, brought by the Wexner Center for the Arts, is scheduled to perform at Capitol Theatre, Riffe Center Tuesday at 8 p.m.

“He literally, as a human figure, at times is almost dissolving into this wild storm of digital bits of information of lights,” said Chuck Helm, director of performing arts at the Wexner Center. “The projections and the lighting are so striking. It’s a very dynamic visual world he creates.”
Jennifer Wray, marketing and media assistant for the Wexner Center, added to this vision of Umeda’s style of dance.

“He’s a single figure on stage. He doesn’t use props or anything, but there are these intense patterns of light,” Wray said.

In addition to the dance, Umeda is giving a talk targeting Ohio State’s Department of Dance and OSU’s Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design on Tuesday from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Wexner Center. The event is open to the public.

“We are sending over a couple of classes,” said Susan Petry, head chair for the dance department. “They always find it very interesting to hear an artist talk about their work.”

Umeda, who is from Japan, will be performing two different pieces, “Haptic” and “Holistic Strata.” He choreographed the dances and created the electronic musical scores, and his own company, S20, designed the lighting.

“‘Holistic Strata’ focuses on the border between dance and video images,” Wray said.
Unlike many professional dancers, Umeda did not grow up dancing and did not formally study dance in school, Wray said.

“This is a guy who studied photography in college, and then decided to start dancing at (age) 20,” Wray said. “He hasn’t been dancing for that long, all things considered.”

Umeda has been dancing for about 15 years.

Helm said Umeda’s innovative dance style is reflective of what Japanese society is like for the young artist and the close relationship to technology. “(The dance is like) diving into an ocean of technology,” said Helm. “(‘Holistic Strata’ is) almost like a white-out condition of a blizzard.”

Umeda’s contemporary style of dance and use of lighting is becoming a trend in modern dances.

“Everyone likes to have that added layer,” said Matthew Bowman, a second-year in dance who plans to attend the performance. “It’s a general trend now to enhance performances with that added visual layer. It gives it more texture.”

Helm agreed that this involvement of technology, on point with what Umeda does, is becoming a growing tendency within dance.

“I think there are other artists that are interested in this kind of idea,” Helm said.

Petry has seen the influence of technology and the prevalence of lighting with students in the dance department.

“A lot of our students are working with video and video projection,” Petry said. This pairing of two different elements to dance performance isn’t limited to only contemporary dance though. “The techniques of technology can really work with any genre,” Petry said.

Hip-hop based work, contemporary-based work, improvisation and even ballet have been using new lighting and technology techniques, Petry said.

Helm said Umeda’s dance is contemporary, but other types of dance are within his movements. “The music is not hip-hop, but you can still see how it’s one of the roots of his dancing,” Helm said.

Despite the formal dance setting, Umeda’s roots in street dance and hip-hop of Japan are still present.
“(Umeda is) like an artist that uses movement and video and defies classification,” Petry said.

Bowman said Umeda’s dance will not be the first of its kind he has seen. “Last year BalletMet had a show all multimedia-specific,” Bowman said.

The show included projection mapping and video backdrops, much like Umeda’s performance will showcase, Bowman said.

Umeda’s creation of a symbiotic relationship between lights, technology, music and dance seems to have pinpointed the next growing trend in dance, and Wray said since his last visit to Columbus he has outgrown the Wexner Center.

“He came here in 2007, and it was his first solo program in this country … and at that show he had this fully formed vision that worked well in our performance space,” Wray said. “Both pieces use cutting edge digital technology. We thought it (Capitol Theatre) was the best space.”

Attempts to contact Hiroaki Umeda for an interview were not returned.

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster for $20 for the general public and $10 for students.


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