IS/LAND’S “IN ISOLATION PT.1 – SYNODIC” PERFORMANCE VIDEO EXPLORES THE SUBTLETIES OF CHANGE

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

“It’s fitting that J. Amber Kao is listed as “mover” in the website bio section of IS/LAND, a performance collaborative comprised of Asian Pacific Islander American and Asian artists. Yes, she’s a dancer, but as shown in the performance video “In Isolation Pt. 1 – SYNODIC,” it’s movement that matters most, not a prescribed notion of dance.

Recorded last year in Saginaw Forest before the leaves changed, Kao and fellow Ann Arborite Chien-An Yuan (aka Jienan Yuan) created this video and soundtrack as a “meditation reflecting on both the passage of time and the nature of change—embodied in the dancer’s movement between, around, and within the changing sunlight.”

Accompanied by Yuan’s ghostly soundtrack, Kao cuts a hypnotizing figure among the tall trees, her movements so slow and controlled that you might think it’s a camera trick. While the choreography is for a solo performer, Kao’s active dress makes it a duet. The billowy garment almost looks like a special effect, with its horizontal lines implying a landscape, or even a face, its colors syncing with the washed-out greens and blown-out backlighting. But even when Kao bounces the dress, it looks like she has perfect dominion over the fabric’s movement, leading the raiment through the dance like a patient teacher.

Over the course of nearly five minutes, it’s easy to be transfixed by Kao and ignore her surroundings, but on subsequent viewings, you’ll see how the video’s contrast subtly changes. While Kao’s movements stay in a tight radius, time slides up the path toward her as the colors move from pale to saturated, the backlight dimming with time, the foreground becoming more and more vibrant. Yuan’s quivering drone accompaniment is occasionally punctured by a treated piano chord, which introduces a sharp video edit that indicates the next stage of the forest’s evolving hues.

It’s the perfect video for January, when we’re huddling inside our homes, hiding away from the season’s browns and grays, waiting to glide in tandem with the verdant world once again.

In addition to IS/LANDS, Yuan runs the 1473 label, which spotlights exploratory sound artists, and he releases remixes and one-offs on his Soundcloud page, including the new “Loved Boy,” a minimalist piano piece to mark the one-year anniversary since the death of his beloved pup, Sanford.