Seeing as it was my birthday a couple of months ago, I decided to buy myself a present, something that wasn't the usual sox or hankies. Special note! Sox and hankies should be banned as presents for men! If you are buying a gift for a man, buy them the type of present you would want to receive yourself.
I treated myself to three videos, "The Woman In The Dunes", filmed at the 2001 Montreal Festival Fringe, "Swan Lake", filmed in Brighton Nov 2000 and "The Pillow Book", filmed at the 2001 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I have previously reviewed "The Woman In The Dunes" and "Swan Lake" elsewhere on this site. By strange coincidence, the review of "Swan Lake" covered the performance on the video.
Let me state at the outset that these are not going to be to everyones taste. Seeing as I am extremely blinkered in my view of dance (to me there really is only classical ballet), it is strange that I like Shakti's work but I do.
All three are shot with a single camera and there is minimal post-production. There is the odd fade but nothing else. The lighting for all three is quite poor. Your eyes are much better in low light than any video camera, so if you were in the audience at these performances you would be able to see fine.
"Swan Lake" and "The Pillow Book" are exceptionally dark. The camera looses her in the gloom a couple of times and there are a couple of instances when the camera man (Jorg Hacker) gets the focus wrong. The video of "Swan Lake" does capture the dynamics of the piece though. While not as good as being there live, it did bring back my memory of the piece. The sheer raw power is impressive.
"Women In The Dunes" has excellent sound. OK I'm biased; the score is written by Steve Severin, the bass player with Trog's favourite band Siouxsie and the Banshees. The lighting on this video is quite good. When I purchased these I was in email contact with Jorg and he suggested I get this version rather than the one filmed in Edinburgh; that version is very dark apparently.
The Montreal version is slightly different to the one I saw in Edinburgh. Shakti had two other ladies with her, but on the video she dances alone. The photography fails to capture the subtle movements of her face, but only naked eye would see these.
What I know of "The Pillow Book" comes from an unwatchable Peter Greenaway film of the same title. I haven't seen Shakti perform this before so perhaps I would learn a little more about this ancient series of poems. The score is gorgeous, ranging from traditional sounding Japanese music, opera, solo voice and piano through to trance. Sadly not much happens in the actual dance. It opens with two dancers in white kimonos performing a very familiar looking sequence of Japanese moves. The subtly of these are lost on me, but this type of dancing looks graceful and it has a calming effect. Shame the lighting is very poor. Next we see Shakti swirling around in red flowing robes. This continues for some minutes. Again the lighting is very poor and you can't actually see a lot. A short snippet would make a nice surreal piece, without any editing.
Later Shakti spends a lot of time standing naked having her body painted. The video sleeve states this "is performed with precision by Mieko Nishimura." After one fade there is a considerable difference in the paint, showing it was shot on different nights. It is not all that precise after all. Finally we get Shakti performing naked to the sound of solo voice and piano and later just topless to a more techno sound. Still there wasn't much to watch in this very repetitive choreography.
I have it on good authority Shakti will be at this years Edinburgh Festival. I hope it is not "The Pillow Book" as I plan to be there too.
The three videos are only available from the Shakti website at www.shakti.jp