Dancing on the Borderline

Feature in Issue 15-2 | Summer 2003

Miriam King on a festival exploring the many aspects of Butoh.

Dancing on the Borderline, produced by Marie-Gabrielle Rotie for Butoh UK, is a pioneering event creating dialogue and links with practitioners worldwide, providing a rare and varied opportunity to experience Butoh, which Masaki Iwana describes as ‘an ever-changing, dynamic concept’. The event covered a huge breadth of work that is termed Butoh, or is Butoh influenced/related.

Included were performances and workshops by both Japanese and Western artists, together with platform events for young UK artists and a World of Butoh conference (hosted and funded by Chisenhale Dance Space’s Artists’ Programme).

In a rare UK performance, Masaki Iwana presented a new solo Floating Atop the Hesitant Heart at Jacksons Lane. Visible on stage with his laptop is composer Matt Grey. Centre stage is an oracle-like floor-based urinal. With marble limbs emerging from inside a black gown wrap, his ageless features curtained behind long black hair, Iwana possesses a raw elegance, embracing the space with a ferocious tenderness. Nothing in excess, all is vital. Changes of momentum traverse from frantic thrashing into trembling stillness held by the breathing belly and a steady eye.

Thoroughly engaging, so much so that I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, was the Expressionistic performance Chaser by Sayoko Onishi. With a soundtrack of horror house screams and barking dogs, she performs as a man being chased by the devil yet is also the devil himself. Onishi is a shapeshifter, possessing a phenomenal range of movement. From a 1930s silent movie skeletal-fingered Nosferatu to a scared cat in an alley to a slump-backed ghoul masked by distorted facial expressions, we are taken through a rollercoaster of extreme shapes until we are left stunned by the final astounding image. Chaser was like watching an extraordinary three-dimensional cartoon in German Expressionist style. Onishi is riveting, raw and alive.

Marie-Gabrielle Rotie presented two different performances, one (The Collector) a trio and the other (Refract) a duet with a contemporary dance feel performed with Liz Lea. With an atmospheric soundtrack by Nick Parkin and beautiful film of skies and sea by Lucy Baldwin, we are bathed in a waterfall of refreshing blue witnessing an ‘aqua sci-fi’ duet of two separate beings inhabiting, with poised dynamism, the same fluid environment. Rotie feels that the impetus for her multi-disciplinary productions comes from Butoh, that is her way, her direction. If people say her work isn’t Butoh, it really doesn’t matter to her, as she can feel something feeding through that may have been sourced ten years before.

The one-day World of Butoh conference included papers by both Rachel Sweeney and Fran Barbe. Rachel spoke of the gradual forming of a question within the body and the physical consciousness developed in Butoh training, the complexity of which is enormous. Fran spoke of receptivity, how a dancer must have a sense of emptiness in order for images to flow into and out of a responsive body. A neutral body is an empty body yet full of potential. It is ready, charged, energised, ready to become anything, it is everything, vulnerable and strong, containing the possibility to murder someone, or make love to them. Stuart Lynch came in from Copenhagen and shared with us an intriguing array of rare black and white performance photos of Min Tanaka (founder of the ‘Body Weather system). Stuart spoke of work that is created with passion, necessity and commitment. I enjoyed his humorous ‘Three Rules of Butoh’:

1. Live the uncompromising life of Hijikata (founder of ‘Ankoku Butoh’).
2. Reject Hijikata.
3. Watch Monty Python very, very slowly…

In the afternoon I gave a brief talk about my work as an artist who feels an affinity to Butoh, creating site-specific work, live art and dance-for-camera work. I showed my dance film Dust which traces the solitary journey of a long-distance swimmer within a waterless world. This presentation led into a screening of rare Butoh footage, including a 1998 video of My Mother by Kazuo Ohno (Hijikata’s collaborator who is still performing at the age of 90).

The day concluded with an open debate. In the discussion, the suggestion arose that an audience aren’t interested in seeing what you are feeling, but in feeling that experience for themselves. How, as a dancer, can you open up how you think, how you perceive, to attain a specific psycho physical result? How, on stage, can you stay vitally present, creating a force that is dancing with the dancer, dancing from a source deep within your body, yet with something that is outside of yourself, and through yourself resonates as a vibration within the audience’s bodies.

Happily, the conference did not attempt to define what is or what is not Butoh. The day, indeed the whole of the Dancing on the Borderline festival, gave us the opportunity to experience what Butoh can be… a dance breathed out of darkness and born into the naked light.

Butoh UK continues to host events throughout the year including a rare performance by Butoh master Ko Murobushi at The Place on 4 September. To become a free e-mail member of Butoh UK send contact details to mgr35@aol.com

This article in the magazine

Issue 15-2
p. 20