Japan's Sankai Juku continues to bend time and space through the physicality of butoh
Back in the early 1980s the butoh troupe Sankai Juku caused a stir in the West. Its naked performers, with their shaven heads and white-powdered bodies, suspended (sometimes literally) in slow-moving time and space, were indelible.
Founded in the traumatic aftermath of post-war Japan, butoh situated transformation and primal physical expression, devoid of exoticism, at the core of the movement. Antonin Artaud’s interest in ritual and the idea of a new essential order, taking physical theatre beyond representation, influenced many of butoh’s practitioners. Even though many butoh artists have graced North American stages over the years, witnessing this groundbreaking dance reverberates still for the current generation.
In his own attempt to arrive at a description of butoh, esteemed Sankai Juku founder, director, designer and choreographer Ushio Amagatsu says that his conception and definition of the discipline is highly personal and deeply entwined with his perceptions of culture. He speaks about the particularities of culture and nationality, and how the differences – whether they are borne out of language or custom – are superseded by a universality that exists for all peoples. This melting away of difference, he says, allows a "nothingness" to arise, which permits a universe to appear in the body. He suggests the spectator see not only with the eyes, but experience what’s created by entering the work, losing all sense of time.
Hibiki: Resonance From Far Away, created in Paris in 1998 and divided into six tableaux, has its own hypnotic charms, with a lyrical electronic score by Takashi Kako and Yoichiro Yoshikawa, and a stage set composed of large-scale water basins. In this piece, Amagatsu emphasizes a body drawn to gravity, devoid of individual will or intention, a release of ego. Tension, another essential element, is derived from an inexhaustible energy that circulates among the six male dancers, affecting the space through simple, deliberate movement.
Hibiki: Resonance From Far Away
At Théâtre Maisonneuve, Place des Arts, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1-2