Japanese Cool

A ninja is defined in Japanese as “one who utilizes clandestine skills.” Hip hop is defined in America as a “popular urban youth culture.” Somewhere in the unlikely intersection of these, between Japanese tradition and American commercialism, lies Orientarhythm, perhaps the most exciting and entertaining blended theater to hit the melting pot of New York City. Martial art fuses with performing art. Performed at Our Lady of Pompei Demo Hall on August 14, the production is impossible to define as just one form of entertainment. Is it dance? Is it martial arts? Is it mime? Is it a drum concert? The answer is all of the above.

The distinguishing factor of the troupe’s style, created in 1999, is their use of nunchakus, the weapon often seen in clichéd Jackie Chan films. They are made of 2 foot-long wooden sticks linked by a chain. Here they are used not only for defensive purposes but as complementary props, a technique that will be taught at a free workshop next week (Monday, August 20th, 10am at Peridance Center).

Their rapid movement is exhilarating, and only gets better when the lights vanish and the nunchakus glow in the dark. The firework shapes are reminiscent of those a child makes with a glow stick on the 4th of July.

This is not the only nod to American culture. To begin this scene the music sings, “May the force be with you,” à la Star Wars. Numerous points during the dance fights turn into “slow motion” with a green background, a reference to The Matrix. In between oriental hymns, a familiar Gwen Stefani song blares about Harajuku Girls.

Though the majority of costumes reflect conventional Japanese robes or marital arts uniforms, in the piece titled "Mirror" the dancer and his supposed mirror image (another dancer) perform intricate hip hop steps while sporting bright Adidas jackets. This serves not only to demonstrate another American influence but to enhance the believability of the mirrored image. Her jacket reads "Adidas" backwards. This reflection creates a subtle but effective touch.

The only downside to this culture-infused show is that it strongly plays upon overused stereotypes, such as harajuku girls and geishas. To this point, Asians have remained an ignored minority in the realm of American theater. With minimal representation it seems a shame to use archetypical suggestions to this extent, though the reasons are clear. Perhaps any representation is better than none at all (think blackface exploitation in the vaudeville and minstrel shows of the 1920s and 30s).

Still, though, Orientarhythm, stays true to its goal of presenting “Japanese cool.” It may be that with this energetic show the Asian culture will make a permanent mark on American theater.

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