August 2, 2014 ◆ George Tsouris
I am always curious to see new butoh performances. About 55 years after Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo performed their 1959 interpretation of Mishima Yukio’s novel Kinjiki (translated as Forbidden Colors in English), not only has the butoh form evolved, but so many other dancers take butoh elements, and incorporate and synthesize with other forms into their own unique styles that it would not surprise me if Tatsumi were alive today (he died in 1986), he would not recognize the form he created. It was therefore a pleasure to see Michiru Inoue’s butoh performance Microscopic Journey: Shuten-doji on Friday July 25th at Resobox, accompanied by KenYa Kawaguchi playing the jinashi–nobe–shakuhachi and Gian Luigi Diana who played both sitar and laptop computer.
While Mr. Kawaguchi performed on the traditional Japanese flute, and Mr. Diana on the traditional Indian stringed instrument, the combined musical synthesis that opened the performance informed the audience that they were going to witness a unique event this evening. The simple melody on the sitar accentuated with its own naturally resonating sympathetic strings had as counterpoint a seemingly traditional Japanese pentatonic melody on the shakuhachi, played with a less-than-traditional mania. I can imagine that the audience members wondered how this dance performance began without a dancer on the stage. Perhaps one of the musicians would drop his instrument and begin to dance? However, Ms. Inoue soon revealed herself.
Slowly the audience could see that Ms. Inoue was going to use the specifics of the Resobox gallery and incorporate it into this performance. As she crept out, seemingly attached to the wall, like a ghost returning from the grave, I was reminded of Hijikata’s idea that butoh was to be dance that conversed with his ancestors. Her slow and deliberate movements were as if she was possessed by the ghosts that she was summoning. Or maybe she was actually the ghost! Helping give that impression was the white ash-like makeup that she wore under the traditional Japanese high school girl uniform.
The question then becomes who is the dead high school girl being portrayed here? It might be that it is the ghost or the spirit or the soul of The Japanese High School Girl as a concept (that is, the unity of all high school girls in Japan) who is trying to become resurrected, trying to be heard, and trying to communicate with us. There is something about the butoh form that allows this spirit to talk with us; it is the bowed legs trying to walk (if you can call this walking), and the crossed eyes trying to see (if you can see with crossed eyes), and the twisted and contracted hands trying to grasp (if such hands can hold anything). Indeed, it was these poses and gestures in butoh’s early manifestations that scared or repulsed the Japanese public, fearing that butoh was either representing or insensitive towards physical disabilities. The patient and jerky motions by Ms. Inoue revealed that the summoned spirit has perhaps been away from the physical world for so long, and thus struggled to control the body with elegance and eloquence that some associate with dance, and seemed to try to escape for this constriction.
The escape theme continued as Mr. Diana left the sitar aside, and moved to the laptop, while Mr. Kawaguchi continued with the shakuhachi, and Ms. Inoue finally made her way to the opposite side of the gallery. This meant that the Japanese flute was now accompanied with a computer that seemed to be possessed by another spirit trying to be released from its bounds, as the clinks, clashes, and chaos of sound produced were evocative of the computer music coming out of places like IRCAM in the 1960s and 1970s by luminary composers such as Xenakis, Stockhausen, Bayle and others.
By now the spirits were making a more blatant expression of escape when Ms. Inoue climbed upon the gallery window sill, and seemed to long for the outside world, like a bird not aware of how remote the glass actually kept her from the exterior. Members of the audience would not have been out of line if they had moved further from the window out of fear of shattering glass. However, the spirit within must have finally resigned itself to failure as she lowered herself from the window after the long struggle, continuing with her unsteady and arrhythmic convulsions.
With a burst of activity, jumping, and her body silently screaming, the dancer seemed like either an ecstatic child being given a treat, or raving madman having one final release before reconciling with her trapped fate. Either would have been appropriate, and perhaps she was both. As if giving up, she dropped, dancing with the floor in a similar way as she had previously danced with the window and walls. If she could not escape from the walls, perhaps she could escape below. By now the chaotic computer spirit had succeeded in its own escape, or, like the dancer, was beaten into submission; and the musician moved back to the sitar. It was with the notes of the wind and strings that the performance ended. Everyone took their bow, which after this performance seemed especially necessary, if only to inform the audience that the spirits had returned to their realm.