BWW Interview: Karole Armitage Untangles Obsession At NYLA
By popular demand, Karole Armitage's haunting tale of overcoming erotic entanglement, heartbreak, and regret returns for a three-day run at New York Live Arts.
You Took A Part Of Me premiered earlier this year at Japan Society. Though a few things have changed for the NYLA performances, Armitage has devoted herself to deepening the original powerful experience.
In creating You Took A Part Of Me, Armitage turned to the world's first novelist, Murasaki Shikibu, for inspiration. Her novel, The Tales of Genji--which provided the first Noh theatre plays--follows the exploits of a philandering prince who can never find satisfaction with one woman. Though Genji's sprawling story is interesting, Armitage decided to focus on one of his most vengeful lovers, Lady Rokujo.
Women in ancient Japan were rarely afforded the freedom to express their emotions. Responding to this repression, Shikibu gave her female characters spiritual powers that manifested the rage that they were unable to openly display. In this instance, Lady Rokujo's anger takes possession of and kills her rival for Genji's love. After passing away herself, this obsession prevents Rokujo's spirit from moving on.
Rather than stage the episode literally, Armitage has combined elements of her signature choreographic precision with fashion, intricate hair design, and Noh theatre into a tale about liberation from regret. All of this is reinforced by a deeply nuanced, original score by composer Reiko Yamada. "It is a mental journey that looks at how one's mind gets hijacked when someone you love disappears and how to achieve freedom of mind so that you can move forward."
Part of what moved Armitage to re-stage You Took A Part Of Me was the deeply cathartic response from her audience. They were probably responding to how Armitage has arranged the central character, who is played by her muse, 15 year company veteran Megumi Eda. Eda is literally tied to her combative double, Sierra French, by the hair in an intricate design created by the superstar hair-stylist Danilo.
The central character and her head-tied double are fighting to free themselves from something that keeps happening to them. "It's obsession; the mind has been captivated by traumatic loss, and then it confronts itself." This confrontation is represented as a battle between the two women, who ultimately experience transformations. This mood is reinforced by Armitage's meticulously calibrated surreality, which takes place on an installation set with ephemeral lighting that transports audience members to an otherworldly place. "It's a dream world, but it's filled with intensity."
Having worked with everyone from Michael Jackson to George Balanchine to Merce Cunningham, Armitage very clearly knows what she wants from her work. "The art that I am drawn to and that I am trying to create aspires to transcendence: a heightened awareness of self and one's place in nature; an appreciation for being alive at the interconnectedness of things."
That interconnectedness includes avoiding the metaphorical haunting that afflicted Prince Genji who spent his entire life seeking the memory of his mother who died in childbirth. It's part of why he was never satisfied with one woman: he couldn't let go of his trauma and, like Lady Rokujo, was caught in a self-perpetuating cycle of regret.
Responding to what she wants the audience to take away her work, Armitage revealed, "There is no telling the audience what to think or feel. I want people to look at it and find their own way of understanding it. This is the outline but everyone has their own experience."
As far as experiences go, You Took A Part Of Me is certain to leave audiences with a new awareness of what it might mean to feel liberated from regret.
You Took A Part Of Me runs at New York Live Arts from Wednesday October 23rd, Friday October 25th, and Saturday October 26th, 2019. Tickets are available at newyorklivearts.org or by calling 212.924.0077