Leesaar The Company/ Geisha
09.06.08 at Portland State University Lincoln Hall
Time-Based Art Festival, PICA
Photo by Jennifer Erickson
All Rights Reserved, PICA
Posted by Dusty Hoesly
LeeSaar are exceptionally talented choreographers and performers, and the images in “Geisha” are as breathtaking, sensuous, and mysterious as any I’ve seen in dance. Throughout the production, I’m looking for a narrative, a story to hang together the beautiful and haunting figures, to link the woman, the man, and the singer.

A Taiwanese woman stands in blue jeans, shirtless. She slowly undulates her torso, exposing her ribs like prison bars. Her breasts hang there, not the focus though present and vulnerable. She dances viscerally, grabbing, being grabbed, reaching out, racing, evading. She repeats a vertical position where she reclines, supine though uncomfortable, as if she’s giving in or giving up. One hand penetrates the line of her other hand and arm. She hits herself in the stomach. Mime-like movements suggest she is a doll, manipulated, used. Her movements are alternatingly sensuous and violent. Is she the victim of some sexual or domestic abuse? Lights darken and return.
A dark-haired chanteuse in a red kimono sings an ’80s-sounding love ballad in Hebrew, reminding me of some Wong Kar-Wai temptress at a smoky lounge or a pre-U.S. Celine Dion hit. It’s moving and beautiful, actually. We have affection for her. I want to hear her again.
Back to the dancer, light techno music plays. A man enters, also shirtless in blue jeans. He swings his hips sexually. She dances freer now, and they start to dance in synch but not together. Is the atmosphere more romantic now?
The chanteuse returns, another love ballad. She enters the audience and makes a connection with a man in the front row, looking back towards him lovingly as she continues her performance elsewhere. It’s sweet and our claps mirror the clapping heard on the audio track. Who doesn’t want to be the man in the audience, the focus of her amorous attentions?
The dancers strike various poses: she well in front of him facing away, then facing him nearly chest-to-chest. She moves on all fours, ass high, pruriently posed, vulnerable again, desirous. Images of romance and lust alternate, manic then soft, together then apart. The vocalist sings another song, reads a love poem. What is her connection? A heartbeat for the dancers, an optimist for love, the spark of tenderness? Does she bring them together?
Is this an international romance? Are we witnessing the beauty of the “other,” the fetishization of a foreign sex object, or a couple falling in love? Is this the story of a woman recovering from sexual violence, finding herself, and renewing her ability to be loved, or a woman still a victim and now a sexual subordinate trapped in a man’s gaze? Am I trying to read a narrative that isn’t there? Regardless of the imagined connections between these scenes and characters, LeeSaar presents a work of physical and emotional exchanges that stay unresolved, an ebb and tide of visceral juxtapositions hanging like a question unanswered.
Posted by Dusty Hoesly