BIAF 19: Median and Accumulated Layout

Photo: Hiraoki Umeda

The Belfast International Arts Festival of 2019 officially begins with a duo of dance pieces as clever as they are nimble. With Median, making its UK and Irish premiere, and Accumulated Layout, from 2007, Japanese artist Hiroaki Umeda has uniquely fused sound, visuals, light and movement for a distinctly effective and powerful feast of fire and fury.

On the night, the old will precede the new, Accumulated Layout finding - intriguingly - a rather median appeal in striking the perfect balance between quietly hypnotic and gently humane. Initial nervousness signified in a box-shaped spotlight by Umeda's fidgeting hand - and let's face it, we've all been nervous in the limelight - is the epitome of barely concealed, isolated discomfort, a minor battle of wills to appear strong and be oneself at once. The sound effects, to these ears and this mind, signify the beating of the heart, fluctuating between the pressure of swirling water and the calm of white noise. It's about, as the title suggests, accumulating to the layout, and Umeda gets particularly creative when his legs, his hands and the spotlight begin to move. There is a sort of ambient joy in contrasting the dancer with the shadow as he rises to the challenge of increasingly commanding and ultimately relieving choreography. It really is quite special.

Median is arguably more ambitious and intelligent, but indisputably more discomforting, its very heavy use of bright light an overload for the senses. Nonetheless Umeda does several very interesting things here. Focusing, again, on entrapment but instead within the pictorial spider's web which gradually emerges from a pattern of white lines projected behind him, Umeda spirals into a form of awkwardly compelling near-madness which demands he bend, twist and rigidly deviate in accordance with the accumulation of relevant layouts (how the titles of these works relate to one another!) created by the various visuals, in a fight to find the appropriate, well, median. Be it the aforementioned web, brain cells, a ladder, prison bars, computer data or whatever we perceive those lines to be, they insist that Umeda moves and we think, and the effect is, unquestionably, indelible. It is, like Accumulated Layout, a battle for control and expression of both the mind and body.

Simon Fallaha

Median and Accumulated Layout officially opened the Belfast International Arts Festival 2019 and will be performed at The MAC, Belfast, on October 16. For more information click here.