In the arts, certain themes resonate through time. One of these is the madness of betrayed women. Yasuko Yokoshi’s grand new project, “Bell,” fuses elements of an 18th-century Kabuki dance play and the 19th-century French ballet “Giselle,” but its most startling, telling aspect is a rendition of Lady Gaga’s 2009 hit “Bad Romance.”
Yokoshi, the first resident artist at New York Live Arts, has had access to unprecedented resources in developing the 70-minute piece, which features three American modern dancers, two Japanese Kabuki performers and six musicians, with the choreographer herself in a central role. A native of Hiroshima based in New York for more than 30 years, her eyes, ears and sensibilities are carefully tuned to contrasting emotional landscapes and their odd similarities.
Between the unfamiliar cadences of the Japanese music, performed live on traditional instruments, and the lilting melodies of the ballet score hovers the strange chanting of Gaga’s heavily synthesized recording, oddly similar to the Japanese sound. Yokoshi finds the feeling-tone of madness and despair that plays through all her sources. She and her cast illuminate it, referencing the buttoned-up formality of Kabuki and the romantic swirl of ballet simultaneously, juxtaposing these elements against the bratty behavior of girls guarding a Buddhist temple.
Akiko Iwasaki’s costume designs — and the hair, wigs and makeup by Koji Kasai — draw our eyes as dramatically as the fusion of sounds, ranging from Western and Japanese singing to viola, flute, drums and shamisen, plus recorded natural noises. We may not understand what’s going on, but we are held rapt by the beauty of the cultural collision on the wide stage.