Kabuki, Kung Fu and Hip-Hop Collide at Iona Rozeal Brown's 'Battle of Yestermore'

Iona Rozeal Brown "Battle of Yestermore" (2011). Courtesy the artist and Performa.

“Once, long ago and many times since, a princess ran away from one monster into the arms of another.”

That was the voice of a narrator booming through speakers last night that set up Iona Rozeal Brown’s performance of Battle of Yestermore at Skylight. The piece was a mix of Kabuki theater, kung fu movies, hip-hop dance and some kind of fashion show from hell.

It began in media res, with three attendants attempting to save the great “vogue” dancer Javier Ninja—the “princess” in question—from a second round of heartbreak at the hands of another monster. Mr. Ninja wore a complicated headdress made of brown fabric that towered over his body. With the attendants, who were wearing purple Adidas track suits and big farmer’s hats, he marched slowly through the audience as a six-note bass melody pulsated from speakers. Their movements were something like the physical equivalent of staccato.

Ms. Brown stood in the back, smiling big and presiding over the music. Sometimes she played the triangle.

Suddenly, the tone shifted and a fast bit of ’90s club music blasted through the room. The movements became less syncopated and the attendants were dancing like they really were in a club. Mr. Ninja, however, moved with almost inhuman grace throughout. There was something impossible about the way he shifted his limbs, at once understated and flashy.

This went on for sometime until three more dancers entered, trying to capture the girl.

[Description of 20 minutes of breakdance fighting omitted. Our notes kind of tapered off because we were distracted by the awesomeness.—ed.]

Finally the monster arrived, played by Benny Ninja, proclaiming, “Do I have to do everything myself?”

“Who are you?” the princess asks.

“Does the log ask the fire for its name?” He was wearing eight-inch platforms and had one long fingernail on each hand. The two Ninjas began voguing and it was overwhelming. At times, they moved only with their arms and it looked like some strange kind of rhythmic pantomime. Other times, they used their entire bodies, breaking into the splits, pulling their hair and writhing on the ground.

In the end, the monster won; he pulled his prize offstage.

“That’s fate,” the narrator said. Kabuki, Kung Fu and Hip-Hop Collide at Iona Rozeal Brown's 'Battle of Yestermore'