Choreographed and Directed by Nami Yamamoto
Collaborators/Dancers/Puppeteers: Takemi Kitamura, Leah Ogawa, Anna Vomacka, and Nami Yamamoto.
June 4, 2022
Rehearsal Report: “If it becomes no longer in my hand and starts to take off, that’s great.”
On a summer day in June, I walked into rehearsal to find Choreographer and Director Nami Yamamoto and collaborator Takemi Kitamura warming up. I made my way to a chair, watching and observing as Nami and Takemi chatted quietly. Their deep exhales filled the spacious room with their backs on the floor and their legs on the wall. After a few minutes, fellow collaborators Leah Ogawa and Anna Vomacka entered the space and began to work through different elements of the piece. Finally, Nami stands up and walks over to me with arms outstretched for a big hug. Her shirt reads "The Future"... I smile.
Illuminated by sunlight coming through the large windows, the space is full of puppets made of clay-colored paper. There is a gigantic beach ball-sized plastic breast and several softball-sized plastic breasts off to the side; I've seen plastic breasts in a previous iteration of the work, so I jot down a note to ask Nami about this later. The puppets are showing signs of wear, and the white tape around their tiny bodies is reminiscent of an emergency room scene from a movie. Or perhaps a graveyard for the recently departed? With the number of objects in the room, my excitement started to build; I couldn't wait to see this unfold.
"It feels good to be here, to be with the dancers, finally," Nami tells me. It's been a long time coming, and after 18 months of virtual and solo practice, she is ready to be at the stage when Trooper's Brother is no longer solely hers; that point when it takes off, and she can let things go. I admire how each dancer interacts with the materials, responding to the texture, caring for them, and understanding them. Throughout the rehearsal, they take turns watching each other and offering observations, with Nami moving seamlessly between the roles of director and collaborator. Nami makes her way over to Leah as she gently places both of the puppet's paper feet between her first and second toes, holding the torso between her knees. She then picks up two small plastic breasts in the equally small hands of the puppet. Leah has been working on dribbling two balls at once, and after a few attempts, she finds her rhythm.
Trooper's Brother will be performed at Brooklyn's Roulette Intermedium in June, and Nami feels good about the headway that week. "The performance space will have three levels and be deeper than what we've been working on within the studio," Nami stated as the dancers took their places for the top of the piece. What follows are tender moments of duets, solos, and group sections that are, all at once, funny, absurd, and heartbreaking. Sounds of crushed paper and plastic balls hitting the floor punctuate the silence, and some badass rock moments of resilience. The classical interpretation of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" provides the setting for an epic duet between Takemi and Nami, moving with fast-paced synchronized chugs, giant leaps to the floor, and marching defiantly forward with intense commitment and handheld plastic boobs. The music fades out, and we get a moment of repose as Takemi ponders what to do with the two grapefruit-sized plastic breasts she is holding. Finally, she looks forward, places them on her upper torso, and slowly bashes them together. The pat-pat-pat-pat of the plastic starts subtly and builds with intensity.
At one poignant part, Anna gently places a paper puppet down on the floor and lowers herself beside it. Watching her gazing at the paper doll, careful and unsure but full of support, stayed with me. She reaches into her pocket and reveals two disc-shaped plastic boobs, the perfect size for the puppet, and places them on its torso. There is a matter-of-factness in how she does this and these intimate moments of care (perhaps the doctor-patient relationship?) are easy to pick up on. I was surprised that the work tapped into a pretty deep and mysterious place for me. This shared sorrow, best illustrated in the section with the passing of the gigantic beach ball-shaped breast between the dancers, permeates throughout. Leah takes it on first, noting the softness and lightness of the ball as she tosses it into the air. The dancers pause to watch and move closer to take turns with it. They find a rhythm, shuffling on their knees in a circle, careful not to let the ball drop.
Within this work, Nami explores the universal theme of trauma with absurdity, humor, and some heartbreak. How do we reckon with what’s been lost? We begin by acknowledging these new parts/extensions of ourselves and discover what it teaches us about resilience, our power, and our capacity. The consequences of what happened to the body and the mind push the work onward. However, things that were lost remained cared for and remembered.
Later, in the program notes for the Roulette performance, Nami shares, "If the first half of the piece is about what happened in our body, the second half is about what happened in our minds. The objects that we were manipulating begin to haunt us. The puppet becomes dissected into a piece of bundled-up paper. We obsessed about pieces of puppet parts that have no shape, no life, or no meaning anymore. The shape of our body changes with time and age. But, we are still living, breathing, surviving, and celebrating our lives."
Nami begins to run in a circle, repeatedly, arms outstretched, perhaps ready for salvation. Watching her, I remember that yes, we can do this. "We are the champions, my friends. And we'll keep on fighting till the end."
Remi Harris is a performer, choreographer, curator, and arts programmer. First trained as a dance artist, she has developed an approach that combines a cross-disciplinary perspective with an intuitive sensibility and deep love for developing art-based relationships. Remi was born in Barbados and raised in Brooklyn, and remains closely connected to and curious about her own roots.