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Flash Review 1, 4-29: The Emperor's New Butoh
Ruth St. Denis, Meet Akira Kasai

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2002 Chris Dohse

NEW YORK -- Thunderclaps announced the initial tableau of Akira Kasai's "Pollen Revolution" Thursday night at the Japan Society. Kasai stood with his back to the audience in the red kimono, white face and black wig of a Kabuki geisha. At first, his precise hand gestures and ceremonial posture might have been those of a traditional Buyo recreation. However, as his mincing steps and waving arms became more and more agitated, it became clear that his hybrid, Butoh- and Eurythmy-inspired performance was a joke, grounded in about as much accuracy as the faux Orientalia of Ruth St. Denis's "Peacock Dance."

However, for one uneducated in the intricacies of Japanese forms, it was unclear whether Kasai's discourse with tradition came from reverence or disdain. His energetic, contemporary style was an unexpected multidiscipline for a Western viewer whose exposure to Butoh has been the very slow, startling images of Sankai Juku, U.S. proponents like Maureen Fleming, Eiko and Koma and Poppo & the Go-Go Boys, and even Min Tanaka, who eschews the term. Kasai worked with Butoh founders Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata in the 1960s, but his improvised material seemed to owe more to the aleatoric creations of Steve Paxton or Simone Forti.

I wondered if he was putting us on. His New York premiere at the age of 59, "Pollen Revolution" evaded interpretation. Through three separate costumed incarnations and various lighting effects and aural environments, Kasai did pretty much the same activities, the favorites of which seemed to be waving his arms as if conducting an eavesdropped symphony and tumbling to the floor as if tossed by the hand of a giant. Interspersed were a series of contorted fencing positions, pratfalls, leaps and grimaces. There was no repose in his taut, gazelle-like body.

The audience members near me seemed restive at times, maybe worried Kasai might hurt himself with his sudden falls to his knees and manic pop-locking, or just bored. The Japanese speakers among them laughed at parts of his monologue. In English he said only, "Who are you? I cannot see," and he threw in a little German. He seemed to channel a deranged Tina Turner in two gratuitous encores, appalling displays of ego where he destroyed bouquets and capered, first to a Japanese pop tune and then to Roy Orbison.

Rather than the "beauty and horrors of contemporary life" proclaimed in the Japan Society's brochure, I suspect "Pollen Revolution" had more to do with the Emperor's New Clothes.

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