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Wednesday, May 10, 2000

WRITING ON THE WALL

Kee Company explores facets of communication


By WALTER ROBERTS

If we could see language, if language relied on visual instead of aural means, it would become a kind of communication closely resembling telepathy: a fusion of the observer with the observed.

The most effective theater performances contain just this element of communication, when the performer achieves the right balance in gesture and speech to allow the audience to invest their intellectual and imaginative attention in the drama. The words and actions on the stage become light and buoyant, creating the vital immediacy essential in effective stage productions.

The performance group Kee Company take the element of visual language a step further in their latest production, "Facets." The production combines live performance with video poems, original text which is projected in specifically timed sequences to add dimension to the action on stage.

Graphic artist Toru Senou first began experimenting with video poems using a computer to create projections that form a visual collage in a continuous evolution of words, phrases and sentences.

"Video poems look completely different from what you see in books," says Senou. "It isn't necessary for the entire text to appear at once. The main point is the word itself as opposed to whole phrases. A large part of a video poem's impact lies in the timing of the appearance of the word or words, the point being the visual impact of the word."

For the past two years Senou has been experimenting and developing his video poetry techniques at galleries and events. While attending a showing of Senou's work, Kee Company founder Coleen Lanki was immediately intrigued by the potential of this original medium within a performance piece.

"I was struck at the way they resembled inner monologues or thoughts," Lanki says. "I thought they could be used theatrically to add shape and dimension to characters in a performance piece."

Lanki and Senou have spent almost a year developing "Facets," the third Kee Company performance piece. Lanki will perform four aspects of a single woman in the production, accompanied by the video poetry of Senou as subtextual counterpoint.

A common element in all of the productions presented by Kee Company is their nontraditional approach. The company never works from a script but collaborates collectively and finds results through improvisation and creative brainstorming. The four characters in the current performance piece were conceived by Lanki seven years ago during a physical therapy session, and have lingered in her imagination ever since.

"It was a Hawaiian massage style called lomilomi," she says. "It incorporates a lot of circular and figure-eight movements. It's very rhythmic and induces a trance.

"During the original session I became very relaxed and was in that border state just between being asleep and awake," she continues. "I saw very clearly, in my mind's eye, Princess, one of the four characters in the play. She had the very distinct physical form of a petite young adolescent blonde girl. She was also laughing hysterically at me. At the next lomilomi session the other three characters, Marga, Ire and The Mother presented themselves."

Working from the physical images that she saw at the sessions, Lanki began working on the possibilities of each character, exploring rhythm, movement and textures that would represent each.

"I chose objects and textures from my house that seemed to fit each character," she says. "Music and colors, crayons and paper. I brought all these things to the studio and attempted to flesh out the characters."

Senou, for his part, chooses phrases that seem appropriate to aspects of each of the characters, using a bank of words that he has collected over the past few years. Painstaking trial and error to find the exact timing to achieve the greatest impact has been the most challenging part of the project.

"First I establish an image in my head of the characters," says Senou. "Then I write from my imagination and develop the text. If I need further inspiration I refer to my word collection. I have about 1,000 words that I have collected through the years. They are now powerfully effective."

This experimental performance piece offers audiences a unique experience, in which three communicative elements -- live performance, video poetry and sound design -- merge to create the multiple interior and exterior worlds of each character.

"Facets," featuring Coleen Lanki, Atsuko Aoyagi and Daiei Chin with video poetry by Toru Senou, 7 p.m. May 12, 3 and 7 p.m. May 13 at Theater Plan B in Nakano, a seven-minute walk from Nakano-Fujimicho subway station (Marunouchi Line). For reservations call Kee Company at (03) 5269-3908.


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