At first, there is nothing—just the cream and brown clad figure of Scottish Dance Theatre’s guest dancer Yosuke Kusano who walks across a wooden floor. As the floor is bare, so too are his very exacting movements, just enough to infer tension: minimal, sharp and mired in a kind of self-protective series of gestures. A hand is raised like an alarm signal. He tiptoes. He moves instinctively, his body governed entirely by the feelings that exist in that exact moment. Suddenly, he pulls at something just visible to the side of his shoulder—a strand of hair that is seemingly not his own. Golden wisps of hair are picked out by the light, and Kusano pulls carefully at the strands, then recoils.
He bends, with both hands holding the hair, and crouches down, extends a foot, contorted, and the hair seems connected there. Hunkered down, vulnerable, aware only of his breathing and the strands, he flexes again, his foot bent back as though it belongs to another body. Soon, it becomes apparent that there are clumps of hair almost like a forest to one side of the dancer, and hanging from his body. He twines it around his fingers. He is now no longer just a dancer, not merely just a human being, but rather, akin to a curious woodland creature, and accordingly, he attempts to regain and hold on to his territory, scurrying along the space, blowing at the strands to form curved patterns on the floor.
Pauline Torzuoli’s masterful choreography of Kusano examines the link between our own human hair growth and naturally occurring phenomena in forests—Itla Okla, South American air plants which resemble hair, and Hair Ice, rare strands of ice which also look hirsute and silky, growing on fallen trees in northern broadleaf forests. So the emphasis through Torzuoli’s work is on movement that is as ephemeral and wondrous as this. Tao-Anase Thanh’s film of the performance is no less a mysterious examination of such strange and intriguing plants and ice, stuffed with moments which feel like sorcery—choppy camera edits and trickery that fools the eye: it is elusive, baffling, and magical, hard to explain away and the whole atmosphere is tense and febrile.
Kusano’s breathing becomes more ragged as he attempts to navigate this peculiar interaction with the mysterious clumps of hair, and he seems to almost hyperventilate and coughs, inhaling and exhaling like a balloon, and sounding like a tree surgeon chopping down a tree. As he scans the space with both feet, he is growing in confidence, sweeping, swinging back and forth, rolling the entire length of the floor. Now he is enmeshed in ritualistic movement, gathering the hair in clumps as though stockpiling, and his hands sculpt slicing shapes into the air. He tastes the hair, bounces on his knees and does handstands and half-bunny hops.
The strands appear to grow, becoming more like floating sculptures, and Kusano’s still cautious, always sensing things out. Now though, as the soundtrack emerges- crackling electronic music from Kurup and biosphere—he is more present, more assured, literally at one with nature and no longer dwarfed by the unknown. He is a man and dancer once more, energised with a proud Shaman kind of energy, clapping out a rhythm reminiscent of Steve Reich.
What a unique, brilliant and strange little film, and how marvellous the execution. As a dance film this is unparalleled, and as a reminder of the connectivity between humans and the planet, it is a stark warning to preserve, cherish and sustain what we have, as the clock ticks and deforestation continues.