Posted by: strugglesome | January 20, 2011

Rambling Man: Makoto Hirano’s Boom Bap Tourism

Do you ever have that feeling, looking back on your younger self, that younger you would have really benefited from a swift slap to the face? Like, just a good strong soap opera style slap mixed with the Sassy Gay Friend saying “What, what, what are you doing?:”  Well, that’s the sensation (among many others) that Makoto Hirano gives us in Boom Bap Tourism, his thoughtful, funny, sometimes fractured solo dance theater piece playing tonight and tomorrow at the Painted Bride Art Center . Riffing on past versus present, narrative versus movement, fourth wall versus direct address, telling stories and making jokes, Boom Bap Tourism moves like a Ferris wheel, traveling all over the place only to leave us right back where we were originally standing, thinking about the trip.

Structured in a series of antidotes and free-styling sections which are directed to the audience, layered between dance and movement, the piece focuses on Hirano as he is now, and how he was as a snot-nosed adolescent, painting the contrast between the two, the distance between then and now.  Hirano, last seen in Punchkapow’s journey though the mind of a video game, is a one-man whirlwind in this piece, created by Hirano and directed by Pig Iron’s Sarah Sanford. He runs, he jumps, he break dances (with varying degrees of success), he duplicates not one but two of Gene Kelly’s iconic self choreographed works from Summer Stock with a lazy grace and casual virtuoso.  Casual seems to be the watch word of this piece, in fact, because Hirano’s onstage presence is so welcoming and easy-going that we laugh when he speaks just because we can. At the beginning of the piece he does us the courtesy of telling us what the rules are here, i.e. Hirano can direct the action, he can address us without a fourth wall, we will all acknowledge that we are in a theater watching a show and that “This is a real fake space”.

Of course, having told us these rules, we become immediately aware that he had already broken them. The show begins with a young boy (possibly Hirano as a child) dancing against a lurid Mario Brothers background. Then Hirano is running in place next to the film, and then he is  in almost complete darkness. Then a light appears. He runs, slowly, but with huge effort, sideways towards this light. The sound design (an excellent score by sound designer Mikaal Sulaiman with co-sound designer Jorge Cousineau) emits a digitized groan, and a light appears somewhere else. Hirano moves to that light, which flickers out, and Hirano is directed to another part of the stage, to which he moves with comic exasperation. So we start the show with our sole performer directed by his surroundings (rather than directing them), with no acknowledgement of the audience, and suspending our disbelief like polite theater-goers do. This push-pull between the rules of modern conventional theater and the rules Hirano has established creates a driving tension of the show, a dissonance that is interesting, a world that allows us to be surprised.  Hirano introduces us to two characters, himself now, and himself at around the age of 15. He then allows his younger self to take the stage, and we are captivated by this smirky superior free-styling twerp, spitting out lines like “We are in our Prime like Optimus”, almost allowing us to forget the travesties of Micheal Bay and Megan Fox and reminding us of a simpler time when video games were king and the future was a four letter word.

Young Makoto is a kid in a candy store, trying things out, deceiving the audience, fearful of current Makoto’s return. Current Makoto is more serious, more self-deprecating, and, naturally, far more self-aware. He offers us information in small pieces, letting us glimpse how the past turns into the present, how Center Line Theory and Tap Dancing and Marine training all go into identity and art. He also takes up more space, testing the confines of the set, a white tape and wooden box affair (cleverly designed by Jebney Lewis). Everything in this set has a place in which it lives, it is static, Hirano is in motion. He can shift the elements, but only to other taped out locations. The geometric shapes of the taped out floor and rectangular wooden boxes allow Hirano’s movements to be both rigid, in reference, and circular, in contrast.   So too does the sound design vacillate between scoring the piece and acting as its counterpoint.

There is a harmony in this work between design and text, that both are illustrating the tension of identity, the multiplicity of self. But there are also things about the piece that don’t quite seem to work together, places where the work needs to be polished and refined and knitted into itself. The piece houses fantastic images, boxes of light glittering in the dark, microphones dangling from the ceiling, Hirano’s body slicing through space,  and it has fantastic text, compelling and mysterious and relatable all at once. But the movement sections and the story or text sections seem segregated, related but not in direct contact, and so there is a segmentation in the piece that makes it feel slightly disjointed. Additionally, in text Hirano easily addresses and interacts with the audience, but in movement we might as well not be there for all he notices us. And of course, it’s much more difficult to look someone in the eye when you are dancing then when you are telling them a story, but the shift is jarring, given how much we connect with Hirano’s verbal performance. But given how much of this piece is about its spectators, I have no doubt that putting it in front of an audience will deeply effect the directions in which it develops, and that’s definitely going to be exciting to watch.

This is a piece that demands an audience, so, seriously, go see it. You have no excuse not to, it’s free. Makoto Hirano’s Boom Bap Tourism runs tonight (Thursday) at 8pm and tomorrow (Friday) at 1:30pm and 8pm at the Painted Bride Arts Center. Reserve tickets here.



  1. Hey, Leah,

    Thanks so much for the review!

    To clarify the shows today (Friday), they are FREE and the times are 1:30pm and 7pm.

    –Sarah Chandler

    • Sarah-
      Oh, thanks, I’m so sorry! I will correct that right now.

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