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Flash Review 2, 2-16: Butoh Manifesto
Akaji Maro's Temputenshiki Mission

By Tara Zahra
Copyright 2001 Tara Zahra

ANN ARBOR, Michigan -- Dairakudakan, seen at the Power Center here Wednesday, is not just a dance company, it's a manifesto. Included in the program is a description of the Japanese company's mission, by its founder and director Akaji Maro. The company's technique, Temputenshiki-Style Butoh, seeks to "reclaim, reassemble, and restore our ineffable, innate, body language," which has been supposedly nearly snuffed out by "modern conventional behavior, which is repressively pragmatic and purely muscular."

"The Sea Dappled Horse," an evening-length work which was first performed in the U.S. at the American Dance Festival in 1982, makes clear that confronting our innate body language is no task for the faint-hearted. The bodies of the dancers seemed constrained as much as freed, conveying a message that what is innate is often painful as much as playful. The magnificent opening scene seemed to be about raw violence and power. This pain and submission, however, was communicated not through graphic or acrobatic fight scenes, but rather through small, inward-looking movements, individual contortions and expressions. Dancers painted like pale statues with white faces seemed frozen in time, strung together on a line attached at either end to men who were both bionic and primitive. An unbearably loud horn blasted until the dancers crawled, undulating, to a mass in the center of the stage, the tension in the music producing something approximating fear in the audience, building, perhaps, towards The Big Bang itself.

Primitivist and modernist motifs intermingled throughout the performance, especially in the eclectic music by Osamu Goto, ranging from howls and minimalist drumbeats, to electric guitars and Western operatic music. What one might object to, however, given the company's claim to restore "innate" bodily gestures, is the notion that the "innate" can ever be more than a given culture's imagination of the innate. This was most troublesome in the gender roles projected throughout the performance. It seems that what is "innate" to woman according to Maro included having one's breast sucked by a grown man, shuffling feet and bowed heads, and occasional bursts of gyrating hysteria. In one scene, apparently designed for comic relief, a brainless throng of airheaded women in ridiculous pink dresses with red bows on their heads chases after a man on stilts with a giant gold penis, the quarry ultimately mimicking anal sex with a cross-dressed man. Maybe it was supposed to be subversive, maybe it was just supposed to shock, but maybe it was just offensive.

Yet Dairakudakan is certainly a different kind of theatrical experience, one that attempts to provoke as well as shock, and to make broad, unapologetic statements on the human condition, as in a finale which highlighted our ultimate solitude in the world. Watching Dairakudan was a bit like reading a difficult text, but the audience seemed to find it worth the effort, and was willing to give the benefit of the doubt to that which they may not have understood.

To read more about Dairakudakan, click here.

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