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Takahiro Yamamoto’s direct path

By Nim Wunnan
September 16, 2017

For Friday evening’s premiere in the TBA Festival of the third part of Takahiro Yamamoto’s Direct Path to Detour, Single Focus trilogy, the exhibition space at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s West End location has been separated from the offices by tall curtains, making for a focused, intimate space that seems well-suited to Yamamoto’s one-man show. There’s a ceremonial feeling to the circular stage, which is ringed with purple pillows and remote-controlled LED lights in the shape of tea candles. Yamamoto mills casually among the crowd until the soundtrack, controlled by sidony o’neal, starts up.

The first passage, as Yamamoto takes the stage, cuts between samples, sound effects, and a sudden, brief emergence of the Doogie Howser theme song (more on that later). This soundtrack, like the performance, never really comes together, but that experience of disharmony seems to be at the core of the piece. Considering the name literally, or as a koan-like algorithm, can be useful for getting one’s bearings. In the sense that a choreographed show, meant to be watched, takes a direct path to a state of performance, this piece does what it says by detouring at almost any point where it might solidify.

The project description in the program says:

Direct Path to Detour seeks to evoke various mental and physical states that arise at the intersection of multiple value systems, social pressure, expectation, personal experiences, and body memory.”

Takahiro Yamamoto at TBA. Photo courtesy Robin Cone-Murakami

The first system Yamamoto engages, striding into the center of the stage, is the finicky world of a yoyo. Though he’s in control of it, he regards the toy at times like a strange animal that’s wandered onto the stage with him. He doesn’t perform tricks as much as he just responds to and moves with the yoyo. But already there is some sort of internal tension, and a mismatch of energies, as if his performance is in two places at once. The yoyo, with its own rules of momentum, acts as an indicator of these mismatches. The halting duet ends with Yamamoto muttering at screwing up an exchange with the yoyo, laughing and walking off stage.

There’s a charming interlude where he takes out a bright plastic microphone and a stool and performs a halting, cut-up sort of biographical monologue. He starts with a gesture at audience engagement, which itself detours immediately. He asks an audience member where she’s from. When she responds, “Houston,” he repeats “Houston,” thoughtfully, paces for a moment and says, “Fluorescent. Tomato. Sweater. Christmas, pink sweater. Piano, piano factory.”

With a considerable amount of charm and a wry smile or two, he perches on the stool and begins telling us the story of how he came to be a performer. He came to the United States more than a decade ago to become a newscaster, he says, but he never knew he would end up staying. “I don’t ask to be called a hero,” he says, to a decent amount of laughter in the audience. We get pieces of his life in Los Angeles, but the ever-shifting soundscape blots him out often. At one point, he very earnestly starts telling the story of when his personal hero, Neal Patrick Harris, gave him some advice he would never forget. The moment he starts to recount it, the soundtrack goes full white-noise. He really works the crowd during the blotted-out time, mouthing some unheard exchange. The callback to the snippet of the Doogie Howser theme song in the opening isn’t further developed than this mention, but we get a similar moment when he later tries to tell the story of what David Lee Roth once said to him in a parking lot. The audience was prepared for this one to get drowned out, but it traded humor for pushing the narrative a little further away from the real.

The movement in the rest of the show mirrors the fraught engagement with the yoyo and the sound. There are points where Yamamoto treats his own arms like the ponderous, uncooperative yoyo. o’neal’s soundscape cuts, fades, and layers at every moment except ones that could be considered harmonious, or part of some overriding structure, or satisfying in any way. Likewise, there are moments where the intersecting systems on Yamamoto’s mind seem to get bound up in his body and his legs begin trembling.

Given the show’s commitment to avoiding cohesion or structural satisfaction, it may be one of the more difficult shows for audiences to engage with. However, there’s a lot to consider in the context of the trilogy, and of the two performers’ previous engagement with ideas of dissonance and the collision of ideas. To that end, the book that was printed as part of the trilogy is available wherever the TBA merchandise table can be found. An attractive and well-designed little volume, it contains conversations between o’neal and PICA staff that directly address the ideas of disharmony and dissonance that appear in this performance and seem to have showed up in their performance with keyon gaskin, Dead Thoroughbred. Yamomato also speaks about the series in the book, alongside artworks and even a puzzle from other local artists that relate to the central concepts of the series.


Yamamoto repeats the final part of his Direct Path trilogy at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16. Details here.

Oregon ArtsWatch Archives