The body in crisis is the unifying theme of the upcoming concert, "The Empty Room," which features artists from five countries. The production is led by L.A. dance theater artist Michael Sakamoto in collaboration with hip-hop choreographer-dancer Rennie Harris, composer Amy Knoles, renowned Japanese theatre company Pappa Tarahumara, Thai dancer Waewdao Sirisook, Cambodian dancer Chey Chankethya and Vietnamese-American dancer Nguyen Nguyen.
This talented group is generating five new pieces based on the Japanese Butoh conception of dance and how it relates to contemporary society, desire, identity, self-awareness, the environment and the hope of democracy.

Sakamoto says that the idea of the body in crisis opened up many themes for the artists: “What is the body? There are many --human, dancing, environmental, body politic (social), culture (stereotypes) [and] healthful (nurture destructive).”

The theme allowed for a convergence of sorts between people of very diverse cultural backgrounds.

As part of the performance, Sakamoto has created a duet with American hip hop dancer Rennie Harris, which began with a conversation four years ago about being raised in an urban culture. Japan’s Butoh came out of post-war Tokyo when everything was reconstructed by occupiers, and people questioned these imposed structures. In the U.S., hip hop also functioned in a similar way. When the pair decided to work together they created a physical dialogue that plays out in a manner akin to a hip hop dance battle.

Sakamoto says the work is “autobiographical as well as an indirect expression of social backgrounds and personalities, and how those have been shaped by the environment we grew up in.” 

Movement, sound and music are layered to build something that is authentic to each’s core identity. The movement melds the two vocabularies to create a new language that references a wider experience of crisis within a social environment that anyone can identify with.

“Everyday is an improv," says Sakamoto. "All day long, [we are] improvising every moment of the day regardless of goals or plans.”

The evening includes a trio of southeast Asian dancers mixing movement from Western and classical traditional dance, as well as the Japanese company Pappa Tarahumara, who bring a modern/post-modern dancer/actor/contemporary performance art melenge to the concept of the crisis in desire.

"The Empty Room" will be performed June 1-2 at 8:30 p.m. at the Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; tickets are $20 general admission and $15 for students and groups. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.