In 1999 the choreographer Yoshiko Chuma happened upon a new obsession: cubes. As a shape, the cube is not particularly sexy, but the use of such movable seven-foot frames has invigorated Ms. Chuma’s imagination ever since. Just as Picasso had his Blue Period, she is stuck on cubes.
Her latest cube experiment is “Sundown,” a seven-hour installation involving seven dancers and seven trombonists at an offbeat site: Issue Project Room, a silolike structure in a gritty industrial neighborhood on the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn.
The idea of incorporating cubes into her dances sprang from a conversation between Ms. Chuma and Ralph Lee, who designed the deceptively simple aluminum frames. “I wanted to have some kind of drama happening in the center of the space,” Ms. Chuma recalled over coffee near her apartment in the East Village, where she has lived since moving from Osaka, Japan, in the 1970s. Mr. Lee, “an artist and genius person,” she said, “has an incredible visual sense with space and proportion. We talked and talked, and he suddenly said, ‘Hey, Yoshiko, it will be seven-foot-square cubes.’ ”
In a manner typical of this impish, elusive choreographer (just try asking her her age), Ms. Chuma’s tiny form was convulsed by a fit of giggles. “Any place you put a human being inside of them has an unbelievable effect,” she said in wonder. “No matter the person’s size!”
“Sundown,” which includes experimental music composed by Christopher McIntyre for the 7 X 7 Trombone Band, features four cubes: one placed inside the building and three others arranged outside. Audience members may remain on site as long as they like, though Ms. Chuma recommends that they stay at least an hour. Unitl sundown, naturally, is preferred.
In Ms. Chuma’s cube works, musicians and dancers, who constantly reconfigure the frames to show how drastically yet subtly movement can transform itself with the slightest shift of an angle, interact with one another within and around the cubes. It’s a bit like watching a film; Ms. Chuma likens the experience to a tango.
“If you’re a painter with a canvas, that is two-dimensional,” she said. “For me, a cube is a three-dimensional canvas. I’m forever excited by playing with these cubes. It used to be that I could only move the cubes very fast or slow. Now, the cubes have different dynamics. It’s unbelievable! In the last two months, I have found another motion. Now, I can be much more complex choreographing the cube in relation to the dance.”
While dance performances are rare at Issue Project Space, which is better known for its music and literary series, Suzanne Fiol, its artistic director and founder, met Ms. Chuma through Mr. McIntyre, who has performed music there. “Sundown” is the final performance in a series called “Points in a Circle,” which features new works incorporating Issue Project’s new 16-channel hemispherical speaker system.
“Issue is a space that’s devoted to experimental art and culture, and I see Yoshiko as a choreographer who’s always worked in that realm,” Ms. Fiol said. “This piece seems a lot more like an installation piece than anything, and for that it makes perfect sense for us to cross over into dance.”
Issue Project’s outdoor space, full of gravel and grass, is hardly ideal for a dance, but Ms. Chuma often takes the unconventional route as an artist. And it’s not hard to envision why the site intrigues her.
“On one side of the silo, there’s a rectangle of very raw space, where there’s a lot of this wonderful weed called mugwort,” Ms. Fiol said. “It is in the lavender family, and it’s a dream weed that Native Americans use to have prophetic dreams. There’s also a very gorgeous wall: it looks like the surface is fake brick, peeled off in some places, with moss growing out of it. So there’s this real kind of ruined dreamscape feeling.”
Along with the difficult terrain, Ms. Chuma knows that the length of her newest piece won’t be easy for her dancers and musicians. But she can’t seem to help herself.
“The majority goes one way, and I’m always kind of biting my finger,” Ms. Chuma said, illustrating the action with a mischievous look. “I don’t want to go in that group, and I don’t know why. My generation in Japan might have something to do with it. We are postwar children, and probably some of my childhood is hitting this landscape. Nobody would choose this space for a dance performance.” But her laughing eyes told another story.
“The area reminds me of a painting of Brooklyn, maybe from the 70’s,” she continued. “It’s not very clean. Manhattan is totally clean now. I think I want to introduce audiences to this difficult place.”