Thursday, October 30, 2014

Without Stars/There We Have Been

Dark, beautiful and heartbreaking are just some of the words used to describe Haruki Murakami's novel, Norwegian Wood. Unlike his other works that are dreamlike and seemingly set in an alternate realm, immersed in magical realism, this particular novel has more widespread appeal because of its straight narrative.

A wistful tale of love and loss, of lost youth and maybe new beginnings, how could one resist?

All things considered, it's an accessible piece of literature, and the one most likely to be adapted to another medium. It's been made into a beautiful mess of a film by auteur Tran Anh Hung in 2010 and now it gets another incarnation through a twin bill production by independent British choreographer James Cousins.

Taking inspiration from the intense but tumultuous relationship of the characters in Norwegian Wood, the dance piece Without Stars tells the story of a man torn between two lovers---different as night and day. 

Complemented by the ingenious use of light and sound, the dancers bend, fold and get enveloped in each other's arms just as easily as they break free and get untangled. There's a push and pull dynamic that's apparent in the movements displayed and it's visually effective in capturing the inner struggle between the trio. Furthermore, it is able to convey that unshakable feeling of desperation and helplessness between its characters that can't be alleviated by companionship or love no matter how hard they try to hold on to each other. It doesn't really matter if you've read the book, it's three people caught in a love triangle, it's the simple. 

The follow up piece, There We Have Been  is a bit trickier though. It may be subject to numerous interpretation but contrary to the press release, it fits in nicely as a tailpiece, providing a conclusion to the rendering of the story. Of the two, it's a gimmicky showpiece but it's also felicitous in a way that elevates the art form and the way it can be perceived. 

In an amazing display of grace, strength and endurance, the relationship between Toru and Naoko is portrayed through a dance duet wherein the female dancer is held up by the male dancer in a variety of positions and poses, the former never once touching the floor. Some reviewers find it symbolic of the female's delicate disposition; of her dependence on her partner to keep her grounded while she is drawn away by an unseen force. It basically tracks the development of Naoko and Toru's relationship following Kizuki's untimely death and Naoko's subsequent battle with depression. 

This particular viewer, in the alternative, would like to think of this final piece as a representation of Toru's devotion to a girl long lost. A girl, who has spent her last few days on earth, desperately courting death, despite all the love willingly offered to her. 

There We Have Been not only captures the nature of their relationship but also its lasting impact on Toru as a person. In this segment, she hovers around and above him like a spectre. The memory of her weighs on him, recounting the times that he's tried to hold onto her even when her whole being appears to yearn for something else...or rather, someone else. And he carries this memory and his love for her like a burden, at least until he decides to let go and move on. This is, after all, Toru's story. And as much as Norwegian Wood may be considered a tragic tale of love, it's also about growing up and choosing to live on. 

 Photo by David Foulkes available at


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