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Review, 8-15: Butoh's Last Song
Out with an Elongated Bang In Frisco
By Aimee Tsao
Copyright 2002 Aimee Tsao
SAN FRANCISCO -- I was
saddened to learn that this year's San Francisco Butoh Festival
was "the Grand Finale." For the past five years (I missed the first
three), I have looked forward to this bright spot in an otherwise
traditionally slow summer season of dance. I guess I had gotten
caught up in the festival's momentum and it seemed like it should
keep going for many years; not that I ever took it for granted,
but I had come to rely on it for providing a place to see dancers
who mostly likely would never have otherwise made it to San Francisco's
stages. Where else would I have had the opportunity to see Akira
Kasai, Katsura Kan, and Anzu Furukawa, all brilliant Butoh dancers?
After eight years, festival
founder/director/curator Brechin Flournoy is stopping to take the
time to reflect, assess and reassess the festival's successes and
failures and hopefully come up with a new model. Flournoy says she
feels that she has completed the main job that she originally set
out to do -- creating a means of deepening our understanding of
Butoh through performances and workshops -- and in the process has
shown how diverse and vibrant this art is. We have learned that
Butoh is more than the more traditional forms represented by Sankai
Juku and Eiko and Koma, and that it has influenced many artists
aesthetically and philosophically in other fields.
Thanks to Flournoy's
dedication, the SF Butoh Festival has fostered international communication
between Butoh groups throughout the world, particularly between
master artists abroad and students in the United States. Fortunately,
Flournoy also says, "It is my sincerest hope that we'll be successful
in transforming this entity into a new butterfly." But there are
practical matters that stand in the way -- namely, the economic
climate in San Francisco has changed drastically over the past five
years and many artists were forced out of the city by high rents.
Now, since the dot-com debacle, money is tighter than ever and arts
funding is suffering. Perhaps the Darwinian process will yield a
survival of the fittest, but there is a vast difference between
fiscal strength and artistic merit and the survivors may not be
the most interesting performers or creators.
This year's festival,
doubly entitled "Past to Future: Women in Butoh" and "New Visions:
American Butoh," spanned everything from very traditional, as danced
by the incomparable Hiroko Tamano, who worked in Japan for many
years with Tatsumi Hijikata, the originator of Butoh, to the very
contemporary multi-disciplinary work of Kathy Rose from New York
and Helena Thevenot from Miami, both using projections in very striking
The program last Friday,
a repeat of the opening night at the Cowell Theater, begins with
a series of four excerpts of longer works by Kathy Rose. I wish
we could see an entire work, but I am not willing to give up the
amazing range of imagination presented in these four very different
sections. Rose's "Oriental Interplay"(1991) projects animated imagery
of hats and dresses onto the canvass of Rose's face and body. Her
movement is minimal and highly stylized in a way that sets off both
the surrealistic and humorous aspects of this work. "Syncopations"(1987)
continues with some of the same themes, but goes even further using
filmed images of heads and hands that look kaleidoscopic. Then Loie
Fuller meets Balinese shadow puppets in "She" (1993), in which Rose
fuses Indian culture and insect society. Finally, in "Kleo'patra"
(1999) Rose gives us a visually stunning painting/sculpture come
to life. The program notes say Rose is influenced by Egyptian culture,
Japanese Noh Theater and Butoh dance, and the marriage works. Rose
is immensely talented, having created film, animation, costumes
and choreography, and then performing on top of it. Her only other
Bay Area performance was at the Palace of Fine Arts/Exploratorium,
and given her extensive body of work and touring venues, it is a
shame that she hasn't been seen here before.
Next Megan Nicely performs
her own choreography in "Queen of Hearts." Nicely has trouble maintaining
her intense focus as the piece progresses. The powdered wig and
red velvet cape over a hoop skirt and corset provide a pleasing
aesthetic, though I find the red velvet heart taken from a box a
bit too coy.
Despite the Swedish
Su-En's beautifully focused dancing in "Headless," this piece moves
too slowly and obscurely for me. Yes, some Butoh is excruciatingly
slow, but usually I am able to remain engaged than for this one;
or maybe it's just me at the end of a long evening.
Saturday night the program
opens with Metropolitan Butoh from San Francisco, performing a solo
choreographed and danced by Molly Barrons. I enjoy many aspects
of this piece, which could use a heavier editing hand. I particularly
liked a tangled mass of yellow plastic CAUTION tape that, tucked
into the back of Barrons's pants, becomes a bustle/tail to be dragged
and flicked as she struts about.
Then HirokoTamano takes
the stage in a brilliant performance that is, for me, the highlight
of the entire festival. In "Anc-ient", she manages to cover a enormous
range of movement, rhythm and ideas. I am so absorbed in watching
her that I forget to take notes. I am never bored as she always
introduces something new just as the material verges toward exhaustion.
Tamano's concentration and commitment are so intense that I cannot
escape paying attention. She takes us on a journey from birth to
death with many lives in between. Although Su-En is performing "Headless"
again, I leave so I can savor Tamano's artistry. Hers is a hard
act to follow.
The following evening,
Sunday, is a rather long program, "New Visions: American Butoh."
Several of the groups show potential, but need help in editing and
learning to work on a more professional level. I am more impressed
with Ledoh and Salt Farm and Helena Thevenot, whose "Pause" and
"The Moment Prior," respectively, show more artistic maturity and
are more carefully crafted. Let's hope that the Butoh community
here continues to thrive and offer the possibility for these groups
to grow. Now that there is a real audience, a devoted following
for Butoh in the Bay Area, it also would be a pity to have it slowly
starve from lack of performance opportunities by recognized Butoh
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