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CONDORS (Junichi Aota, Yoshihiro Fujita, Toshihiro Hasizume, Satoshi Ishibuchi, Michihiro Kamakura, Yasuharu Katsuyama, Kensaku Kobayashi, Ryohei Kondo, Takeshi Koga, Motohiro Okubo, Satoshi Okuda, Keiichi Otsuka, Hiroyuki Takahashi, Kojiro Yamamoto.



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Conquest of the Audience

It’s finally happened – a contemporary dance act that offers something genuinely new, interesting and entertaining has visited Melbourne. Thank you Condors and thank you Melbourne International Comedy Festival for bringing them to us. In all its years, the Melbourne Festival, our city’s major international arts festival, has never brought a genuinely new dance act to town and although the globe’s who’s who of dance has traipsed across our stages over the last few decades, by the time we get to see something it is so established that it is old hat.

The groovy lexicon lacks the lingo to do these guys justice but let’s say that Condors are so cool that they are totally hot. Condors do it differently and it feels really good.

Funny that we should rely on a comedy festival to bring us an artistically important dance show. Certainly, humour and multi media are integral components of Condors’ approach but dance and stylized movement are always present. From the opening sequence of the show’s Melbourne premier, this electrifying troupe of 14 Japanese men was performing to an adoring audience.

Iconic rock, including post-Bon Scott AckaDacka, was played softly through the auditorium before the lights went down. The raked ampitheatre seating was handsomely filled by a crowd that seemed to have paid for its tickets – something that doesn’t happen at your regular contemporary dance performances. As the lights dimmed, a suspended cloth screen on the performance floor flickered to life with a video montage showing international landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, from which individual Condors launched themselves into the skies like flying superheroes answering the call of a mission. In this case, it was Conquest of the Galaxy: Jupiter, the name of the show, announced by delightful typography and amusing on-screen effects which digitally merged the bodies of the Condors, hurtling through the skies, with graphic effects to form the word Jupiter.

Once we had fastened our seat belts and were in the picture, so to speak, the real fun began as Condors in the flesh, clothed in somber black militaristic suits (actually their old school uniforms reincarnated as thrifty costumes), burst on to the floor and broke all dance speed limits to a recording of Hush, a 1960s pop hit, which enjoyed a local cover-release by Somebody’s Image.

The show’s use of music, arranged by Makoto Takoi (one of the few contributing artists who doesn’t also appear as a dancer), is a seamless mix of pop, rock, “classical” (chamber/symphonic, including snatches of the Jupiter movement from Holst’s The Planets, which ironically I was studying at school while the likes of Hush was a Top Forty hit) and elevator kitsch like fragments of Jesus Christ Superstar arranged for lush trumpet. There is one enchanting moment when a Condor sits cross-legged and taps out a delicate piece on a miniature grand piano, or what you might call a baby’s grand. The music not only sets the mood but introduces another layer of texture and meaning into this brilliantly constructed work.

But back to that opening sequence…As the wave of Condor energy broke over the audience, I turned from my third row seat to be greeted by a sea of smiling faces, beaming with surprise, amusement, bemusement and joy.

I would like to think that it was the dancing that elicited this response but it was actually the total package. However, for me it was the dancing. The choreography is the work of artistic director Ryohei Kondo, who formed the troupe in the late 1990s. The Condor style is a sort of jazz ballet filtered through post-modern sensibilities: big, often on-the-beat moves, limbs soaring, bodies flying, geometrically-propelled energetic phrases and turns to die for. I especially fell in love with one grand jete en tournant (a classical ballet jump in which the dancer leaps forward then turns back in mid flight by scissoring the legs and landing on the original leading foot) executed so loosely and so low that it took me seconds to register what this fabulous new move was.

When the jumps were big, they were really big and free. The lifts were in the totally relaxed post modern style: contact, lift off, move on. My favourite was done lying on the floor, where one dancer passed another over himself lifting him by one foot while the lifted dancer used his hands for support with swiftness and subtlety that made it look as if his horizontal body was being lifted only by the foot. Gems like this were sprinkled throughout.

And then there was the tango seguence that two of the dancers more or less just walked through, their bodies taught, moving as mirror partners. Very flash, fellas. These guys are sensational dancers. The troupe accommodates a range of dance techniques and abilities and throws them together as a very stylish ensemble – like mixing op-shop chic with designer gear to achieve a stunning and unique look. In our age where dance is being suffocated by super technique and a lack of content, the Condors take us into a meaningful communion with kinesthetic urges.

The troupe acknowledges martial arts as an influence but it is only a thin one, evidenced by flying kicks (think of Bruce Lee posters for Fist of Fury – our hero flying sideways, leading leg straight out, other leg folded to the groin) and a dance sequence towards the conclusion in which the troupe, in unison, executes a sequence that feels like it is based on a Chinese martial arts form (think of the opening of Tsui Hark’s Once Upon a Time in China and the beach scene showing dozens of men moving through a Hung Gar kung fu style form). This is an area that has not yet been tapped but it is a tricky one because the martial arts are about much more than waving your limbs in pretty patterns. One of the Condors, Michihiro Kamakura is a Chinese matrial arts master and perhaps he should take the guys through some paces. I offer this advice, fist covered, as both a dance critic and a martial arts practitioner (Wing Chun Kung Fu).

Yes, I loved the dancing but clearly the audiences want more, so it’s good that Condors deliver – in fact, sketch after sketch. These range from “A Typical Japanese Landscape”, which is mainly about the double lives Japanese businessmen lead as office automatons by day and pisspots by night, to a yucky sketch in which food is passed from mouth to mouth (especially disturbing in our age of mysterious viral illnesses), an off-the wall psychic powers sketch and, my favourite, the sad story of a closet footballer.

The show goes for 90 minutes with no interval, which is not something I would normally recommend. The Condors are the exception to the rule.

There is nothing supersonic about what Condors do – they are artists making clever use of run-of-the-mill current technology: film/video live and animated footage, straight or layered with montage and spliced with live action on stage. It makes sensational theatre. Paradoxically, by doing something so whackily new, Condors take us back to the times when you went to the theatre to see what you could see nowhere else. The starkly black and white cartoon featuring black cats was a superb touch.

Come back soon, Condors, I miss you already.


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