Dance review: In-Vocation, Dancehouse, FRAME festival

An experiential and experimental production that explores the practice of ritual and experiences of Japanese women.

Attending In-Vocation is less watching a show and more participating in an off-the-wall experience, a bit like being guided through a transcendental drug trip.

The production is rooted in Japanese culture with the choreographer, Yumi Umiumare, a practitioner of the Japanese dance theatre, Butoh. It’s an unfamiliar style for most Australian audiences, so a quick Google search of Butoh’s ideology and characteristics will provide a foundation to understand Umiumare’s artistic decisions. However, it’s equally, if not more, fun to forgo any pre-reading and just strap yourself in for the ride.

Umiumare experiments with form, presenting more cabaret and ritual elements than dance. This aligns with the key messages of the production: the importance of uplifting women and engaging with spiritualism.

These ideas are so dense they could make up two separate shows. In fact, In Vocation comes across as two shows spliced together, the ensemble jumping between styles and topics with abandon. 

This creates a general sense of confusion, but Umiumare and her castmates, Kayo Tamura and Kyoko Amara, use their charm to keep the audience on side as if we’re all in on the proceedings of a big party. Indeed, the production finishes with audience participation in a high-energy therapeutic release on stage that feels similar to when the DJ announces the last song at a club.

This is but one of the ways Umiumare successfully experiments with drawing the audience into mindfulness and being present during the show, with the use of incense being the most effective. The production is therefore unique, being performance, guided spiritual journey and a rare insight into modern Japanese theatre for those unable to speak Japanese themselves. 

Despite all the fun and reflection, the production ran 30 minutes over its supposed duration and this caused a slow waning of momentum from both audience and performers on the night this reviewer attended. 

Read: Exhibition review: Paradise Camp, Yuki Kihara, Powerhouse Ultimo

In-Vocation can be summed up best by Umiumare herself. It’s a ritual, an experience, an exploration and performance that will be enjoyed ‘with or without your rationalisation’. 

Dancehouse, Melbourne
Choreographer: Yumi Umiumare
Performers: Yumi Umiumare, Kayo Tamura, Kyoko Amara 
Visual Artist: Jacqui Stockdale
Sound Designer: Ai Yamamoto
Original score from ‘Buried TeaBowl – Okuni’:  Dan West
Original video from ‘Buried TeaBowl – Okuni’:  Takeshi Kondo

Tickets: $15-$30

In-Vocation will be performed until 28 March 2023 as part of FRAME festival of dance.

Jenna Schroder is an emerging arts critic, with a background in dance and voice, and an organiser at the Media, Entertainment, Arts Alliance. Outside of her union activism, Jenna can be found performing at The Improv Conspiracy, around the Melbourne comedy scene and producing independent work across multiple platforms. Twitter: @jennaschroder00