EMAKI - Daniel Belton and Good Company Arts
13-14 October 2017 | Auckland Art Gallery | Tempo Dance Festival 2017 | Reviewed by Francesca Horsley
Without doubt award-winning film-maker Daniel Belton has an extraordinary poetic vision – in his digital dance films his imagination travels beyond the spatial confines or gravitational pull of earth into the far reaches of space and time.
His dancers can inhabit ancient stone, as if waking fossils to release their spirit. They can be wedged or balanced between intricate geometric patterns or rendered to ethereal figures that gather in the heavens as if assemblies of angels. The earth is often represented as a sphere – beautiful yet remote.
In Emaki (Mahoroba Emaki) the real world bursts through to populate Belton’s digital time travel. After visiting Japan, and the ancient city of Kyoto, Belton has created an elegant and mesmeric work, encompassing four elements of nature, and Japanese historic and sacred sites. Mostly set in black and white, a dancer, Japanese movement artist Meri Otoshi, calmly negotiates each scene of the journey as if illustrating a traditional Japanese scroll.
In the water element Otoshi feeds tame Shika deer from her hand when she visits the Kosan-ji Temple forest; she balances on the scroll as if on a diving board projected out in space in the section titled the Void. In the wind element a soft breeze brushes her hair as she traces her hand across the surface of an ancient wall in Nara Park, and the entrance of Todai-ji Temple. Fleeting or shadowy images come and go. The ghostly outlines of ancient puppeteers shuffle and gesticulate a language of signals. In the fire element the carved inscriptions on an ancient stone in the To-ji Temple convey a sense of wonder and timelessness, and finally in the earth element, surrounded by a bamboo forest, she rides atop the mysterious megalith Rockship of Masuda in Asuka as it travels through space.
All these windows of action are set against a floating, digitally created, landscape - webs of pressure waves expand or subside as if fuelled by galactic winds and currents. Twitching and shifting contours of fine lines suggest turbulent waves or folding hills. A complex sound-landscape – blends of Taonga Puoro, Japanese Shakuhachi flute and Biwa recordings and Jac Grenfell's new music – amplifies the work’s cross-cultural wealth.
Otoshi is always in command – scooping her arms or thrusting hands, she bends and arcs, balances or lunges, advancing along pathways or riding into a mystical space. She is a signifier, uniting past, present and timelessness; a voyager articulating a semaphore of coded movement, or as Belton writes, “scenes that evoke Haiku”. Mahoroba, Belton says is an old Japanese word that means “wonderful place” and “a place to live” and Mahoroba Emaki creates a sanctuary space to which Otoshi has the “keys”.
There is an element of French author and mid-20th century pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, whose works such as Wind, Sand and Stars and The Little Prince paid tribute to the poetic purity of flight above the earth - all the while longing for its warmth and vitality.
Emaki is a beautiful, meditative work that conveys a sense of peace and wonder. Deeply rich in Japanese symbolism whose artefacts are distant and mysterious, yet framed within a natural environment, it celebrates a treasured earth and speaks to the custodial role of mankind.