Predation, victimization, art and rebirth in Mark Conway Thompson’s ‘Kimono’


From Mark Conway Thompson's "Funambule".  Photo by Jean-François Le Faure.

From Mark Conway Thompson’s “Funambule”. Photo by Jean-François Le Faure.

By Steve Sucato

Predation is a theme that movement artist Mark Conway Thompson says he has been returning to in his works since 2007. “That has a lot to do with what I think is wrong with the world today,” says Thompson.

The domestic-violence case of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is just one example now in the headlines. Such episodes, along with Thompson’s reading on social-justice issues, prompted the Pittsburgh native to revisit the topic in a new and perhaps more definitive way. Thompson’s stage work Kimono receives a work-in-progress showing Fri., Sept. 19 at The Alloy Studios as part of the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater’s artist-incubator series Fresh Works.

Kimono is a dark and disturbing movement piece in parable form: the fictional story of an older artist traumatized by a past predator. With the help of a woman who appears on his doorstep, and through the creation of artful kimonos, he finds new life and the courage to symbolically confront and drive back his predator.

The largely dialogueless work draws on the life of the late Japanese textile artist Ichiku Kubota, who during World War II was a brutalized prisoner of war in a Siberian detention camp. Kubota reclaimed his life through the ancient kimono-fabric-dying technique called tsujigahana. Similarly, Kimono‘s main character “uses his art as a pathway back from hell,” says Thompson.

Mark Conway Thompson in "Icarus".  Photo by Linda Wallen.

Mark Conway Thompson in “Icarus”. Photo by Linda Wallen.

Thompson, 66, has a background in dance and mime. He is a former teacher at Duquesne University and principal soloist with French movement-theater company Le Theatre Magenia. He has performed throughout the U.S., France, Italy and Germany and has appeared on Broadway, in film and on television. He will be joined in Kimono by Slowdanger dance duo Anna Thompson (no relation) and Taylor Knight.

Set to an atmospheric original score by composer/musician David Bernabo, the 40-minute work-in-progress, which contains nudity, will incorporate elements of Butoh. It will touch on graphic experiences of victims and delve into something Thompson feels is too little discussed: our pursuit of, and attempt to rein in, predators themselves.

In keeping with the theme and format of Fresh Works as a learning program, Kimono will be followed by a Q-&-A with the artists to discuss the work and the art of movement theater.

Fresh Works: Mark Conway Thompson’s Kimono; 8 p.m., Fri., Sept. 19. The Alloy Studios, 5530 Penn Ave., Friendship. $10-15. 412-363-3000 or kelly-strayhorn.org.

This article originally appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper September 17, 2014. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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