Asia Rising

Radical departure: Shouze Ma
Dan Dennehy, Walker Art Center

Kats Fukasawa has coined a culinary term for his dance technique: "Paneer Masala"--spicy cheese to you and me. It makes sense when you learn that the 31-year-old choreographer adores the Technicolor tackiness of Bollywood, and all things Indian for that matter, thanks to eight years with Ranee Ramaswamy's Ragamala Dance Theatre. Premiering Caffé Madras as part of the Momentum Series at the Southern Theater this weekend, Fukasawa is relishing the opportunity to blend all his skills--the ancient south Indian form bharatanatyam, flamenco, jazz, tap, African, and modern movement.

"In Bollywood the dancers are untrained but they rehearse really hard," says Fukasawa, sipping a smoothie at the Anodyne coffee shop in south Minneapolis. "I'm working on a spin-off of Hindi film with the genders all mixed together." He also intends to offer new insight into tradition, drawing from his work with the boundary-crossing Ramaswamy. "The beauty of bharatanatyam is its precision," he explains, sitting tall in his chair. "You move very fast in a controlled manner and use every part of the body. Unlike in ballet and modern dance, you project personality with the face. Ranee tries to use bharatanatyam in a different context, to bring East and West together."

Taking a cue from his mentor, Fukasawa also views tradition as a departure point for invention. In Caffé Madras, music by jazz artists like Charles Mingus and John Coltrane provides the backdrop to short pieces that explore snake charming, temple devotions, and "apsara," the celestial nymphs who appear throughout Hindu mythology. The gods, he explains, used these temptresses to make humans weak. "Everybody sees India as a spiritual and peaceful place," says Fukasawa, who has visited the country twice. "It has a dark atmosphere, too."

The fusion of time, location, and culture is natural for Fukasawa, a Japanese native who found himself studying Indian dance after coming to the United States, ostensibly to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering. "I want to find a niche to squeeze myself into," he says, "an innovative place where my interests can merge."

Sharing the Momentum program this weekend is Shouze Ma, a newcomer with an unusual history. In 1987, after teachers from the American Dance Festival visited Guangdong, China, Ma was inspired to start a modern-dance company, the first of its kind in the country. This was a radical move in a place where traditional, theatrical, and acrobatic movement forms are the norm. But Ma and the other founding members persevered, bringing Guangdong Modern Dance Company to life in 1991. Twelve years later the troupe has an international reputation. And though Ma left China five years ago to study for an MFA at the University of Iowa, he still travels home to teach and perform, most recently forming a modern-dance workshop at Beijing Dance Academy.

Ma, who came to Minneapolis to teach at the University of Minnesota and perform with Cathy Young, Robin Stiehm, James Sewell Ballet, and Zenon Dance Company, will be moving to North Carolina this fall to join the faculty of a small college. First, though, he'll be showing works that demonstrate his fluid style. "The Vertical Ray of the Sun," says Ma by telephone, sees his dancers seeking a spiritual connection "in terms of philosophy, communication, taking a journey. It's like they're going to the same place to worship or pray." The trio, assuming the strength and flexibility of Pilobolus dancers, moves slowly through a peaceful landscape, which reflects Ma's interest in the Japanese postwar dance form of butoh. Other works on the program include "The View of Tibet," an abstract meditation on the hallowed land, and "The Sacred Fan," a modern interpretation of traditional fan dancing.

Reflecting on the dance cultures in China and the United States, Ma sees more challenges here than in his native country. "It's harder because you have to have a lot of motivation to do your own work," he explains, noting the lack of funding support. Still, Ma is impressed with the home he will soon leave behind. "The Twin Cities is a good community for artists. There is just so much performance to see."

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