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Flash Review 3, 11-13: Anniversary Butoh
Thanksgiving in the Butoh Bin with Dairakudakan

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2002 Maura Nguyen Donohue

TOKYO -- Dairakudakan Temptenshiki opened its 30th anniversary season at the Setagaya Public Theater last Wednesday with a stunning display of skill, craftsmanship and spectacle. The large company, directed by Maro Akaji and consisting of a men's troupe and a women's troupe, performed together and confirmed its place as one of the most important Butoh companies in the world with its diverse array of solos and tightly choreographed group work.

There is a discussion among the contemporary dance community in Japan about whether Butoh should be considered a part of contemporary dance or maintain a separated identity. Artists like Kim Itoh (and the Glorious Future), though coming from a Butoh training, prefer to be called contemporary choreographers. Though Butoh has it's own distinctive aesthetic code, per se, the form itself, several decades old now, has spawned a great range of styles and philosophies. In 1972, Akaji founded Dairakudakan with Sankai Juku's Ushio Amagatsu and Ko Muraboshi. Touring, including to the American Dance Festival and Festival D'Avignon, began ten years later, followed by a school and numerous offspring. Unlike the grand spectacle of Sankai Juku, or dark grunge of Min Tanaka, or even the sublime beauty of Kazuo Ohno, Dairakudakan is a a virtuosic troupe of highly trained dancers who maintain a strong standard.

The work shown Wednesday, "Doro Geisha" is divided into nine scenes, opening in a coliseum with an expansive, operatic semicircle of rising silver rows that allow for mythical images of ascension and decay. Seven chorus men adorned in standard Butoh manner -- miniscule loincloths, white body paint, and shaved heads -- stand in seven red door frames that mark seven exits. They follow the cue of short, punctuated breaths as they all move together in a refreshing use of well-rehearsed, specific choreography in this highly improvisational form. The men shift from ghostly walking to sharp, dramatic shifts that include various grimaces. They then become gladiators, slowly battling the seven chorus women covered from their torsos up with enormous bulls' heads. Amidst this ten bodies writhe on the floor, each dressed in different tattered costumes, before rising like souls into the stands as the curtain closes on the first scene.

The second scene reveals a tableau set around two large tables in the "Family obsessed by..." scene. Another title in the US could be "Thanksgiving at the loony bin," as family members twitch and manipulate their bodies into grotesque postures before breaking into frenetic robotic dances. Rie Yasuda is arresting as "Mom" in a torn, puffy, patchwork dress and large teased hair. She ascends the steps, caught in a spot of light, commanding the scene as we shift into "Woman created by..." and the seven door frames, and the seven chorus men inside them, crash to the floor. Eiko Kanesawa moves with the virtuosity of a ballet dancer but in a completely different manner. Its as though all of her bones had been broken and she is being tossed by a mysterious force. A feat as equal to, though entirely an antithesis of, the controlled, technical skill of any NYCB principal. The wonderfully titled "Menstrual matter" sequence has Akaji wrapped in an enormous gown of dark, bloody red netting and an enormous black wig. As he slowly and ferociously makes his way across stage, the chorus women face away from the audience into the alleys and sing ghostly songs while undulating gently. In "Episode of the Island," Yuko Kobayashi performs a crumpling solo dancing with sinuous grace before birthing a man out of the moveable table on which she dies spread-eagled.

The work progresses through slightly harder to distinguish changes from scene to scene, becoming an absorbing and transformative experience. "Asked cattle" moves into a rousing group stampede dance as "Cattle responded" moves into a breathtaking solo by Reiko Yaegashi. She demonstrates feats of balance and strength, dancing while keeping the bull's head in place over her torso. The line where "What happened, and what will happen" became "Denouement" is entirely indistinguishable once I am fully drawn into the magical realm of these seductive, ghastly phantoms. Each soloist, including Jun Wakabayashi, a modern-day pop and lock style dancer, notably virile and agile even within the awkward Butoh steps and a regal Keinji Yoshida maintains an incredibly strong presence, working with ferocious precision and revealing particular fortes. But the full power is in the company as a whole. By evening's end, two hours without intermission, there was no doubt that some of these performers belong in the ranks of the world's best contemporary performers. It was a tremendous tribute to three decades of powerful direction and artistry.

Dairakudakan Temptenshiki returns to ADF summer, and also tours to New York, performing at the Japan Society.

Maura Nguyen Donohue is the Dance Insider's Asia Bureau Chief and the artistic director of Maura Nguyen Donohue/ In Mixed Company.

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