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Oh, Butoh, why dost thou still defieth me?

After all the research, essays, YouTube videos, multicoloured mindmaps and lectures I followed on you?

Why did I still sit through Amanogawa wondering what the fcuk-san was going on?

Yes,  I read the program notes.

Yes, I read the messages on Facebook.

Yes, I get that it is about life and death and birth as one and the same, and the cosmos and life and death and and and.

But that’s what most Butoh pieces are about.

The piece didn’t say much more to me except ”OMG Frauke should really eat more pasta, or in fact, more anything. I think she has a diet of air and wind, with a gram of hay on Sundays.”

I honestly think the First Physical Theatre Company tried to hard on this one. I generally enjoy their work, and have been watching them since my first year at Rhodes. But in this piece, it’s like they’re trying too hard to be Kazuo Ohno, so that the final piece comes out as contrived and quite awkward, and lacking in depth.

The costumes were stunning and incredible, but again they felt so constructed and contrived. The use of nudity also felt like it was done just because that’s what a lot of Butoh artists do.

So I’m not sure, this piece had a lot going for it, a lot of huge names ( all hail Gary Gordon), but I really don’t know if they did Butoh justice. It was definitely an interesting piece, and perhaps this is as close to Butoh as Westerners can get to it. Perhaps the point is it is meant to be contrived and confusing. This is postmodern dance after all. Fahfahfah plurality and nonsensicality. I’m not sure. It’s not even that I wanted a straightforward narrative. Even communicating a state of mind would have been good. But the lines of communication felt very warped.

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Comments on: "Amanogawa | National Arts Fest | Review" (2)

  1. Alan Parker said:

    I think Butoh is something that either appeals to you (when it’s done well) or it doesn’t (even if it is done well). It is an artform (as I have only really recently realised) that is very much like orchestral music and/or visual art (such as sculpture for instance), where it is most successful when an audience allows themselves to be drawn in and observe from the ‘inside’ on a corporeal and experiential level. We are far too familiar (especially within postmodern art and theatre) with the need to interpret, deconstruct and associate meaning with what we see. In a lot of postmodern art we are told that we can construct the meaning for ourselves and so we do. I think Butoh is best observed without these mental faculties of meaning making. The beauty and the meaning (I believe) lies in the strangeness and intensity of the movement itself and how this is presented on the stage.

    As for the nudity, you are quite right in noting that it is what the style demands. As you know from your research, the body of the butoh performer is ideally devoid of ego, personality and gender. One empties the body so that it can become infused with other ‘materials’. Nudity in this sense is then not to make the performer vulnerable, but rather to emphasise the body as a clean slate. We made a conscious effort with this production to create a butoh performance that was as ‘authentic’ as possible. Too often butoh is used purely as an aesthetic component within a greater theatrical fusion, taking parts of the style and combining it with contemporary western dance traditions or ‘african’ sensibilities. This fusion is not new, it is not unusual, it has been done in both dance and theatre around the world. First Physical wanted to make a butoh dance, choreographed by a butoh choreographer, using a language and theatricality rooted in the butoh style.

    🙂

  2. Hey Al,

    Thanks for the comment! I agree with you that Butoh needs to be assessed on an experiential level, and it’s definitely possible to find beauty in the grotesque or the strange – I still don’t feel that Amanogawa succeeded in this – at least not in my experience of the performance, and of course I can only speak from my own experience. The images and composition I saw were strange, but I battled to find beauty and meaning in them. It’s interesting that you mention that “too often butoh is used purely as an aesthetic component within a greater theatrical fusion,” as during Amanogawa I did often think that a lot of the costuming and imagery could ‘be used’ in a play somewhere – expanded into characters with narratives. I do believe Butoh can stand on its own, as its own art form, without just being a theatrical device within a greater theatrical fusion, but in order to stand on its own, I believe it requires a little more clarity and signification.
    I’m pretty sure that it’s completely different being ‘on the inside’ of the performance though. The experience you and the cast had, from the training, the development of the dance, and the performance itself, really can’t be compared to the experience the audience member has.
    This is just my opinion though 🙂

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