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Flash Review 2, 3-18: The Nightclub of His Imagination
Butoh Painting With Kasai

By Asimina Chremos
Copyright 2000 Asimina Chremos

CHICAGO--I have just returned home from witnessing 57-year-old butoh artist Akira Kasai, making his Chicago debut at the Dance Center of Columbia College, perform in the nightclub of his imagination. For his piece "Tinctura-2," the floor of the large black performance space/existential disco was marked with dotted lines of glow tape, sending the eye out and away like a 10-laned highway in space. The lines narrowed towards the back of the space, a simple trick of perspective that added a surprisingly effective illusion of depth. Dressed in black pants, tight black cap, and sleeved t-shirt, with bleached blond hair and sinewy arms, Kasai reminded me of a Japanese version of Iggy Pop. His performance also included two backup dancers, young women sister muses in thin-strapped tank tops and miniskirts: Naoka Uemura and Ai Yokoyama.

Kasai started the performance in the dark, speaking the title of the piece in heavily accented English and talking about colors. He commenced to dance, occasionally talking in English or Japanese. His movements appeared improvisational and were wild, dynamic, remarkably unrepetitive, full of gesture, nuance, facial expression and idiosyncratic form. I had the pleasure of discussing the performance afterwards with postmodern maven Simone Forti. She observed that Kasai's movements were very presentational, and that he never seemed to forget about how he looked. I myself am drawn in by that style of very aware self-presentation, but I see that it has it's limitations. As an audience member, one feels always that one is being performed to, never quite drawn into the world the performer may be experiencing.

Press information quoted Kasai as saying that "...dance is a phenomenon of colors, of tinctures, generated by the body." Program notes added, "What is truly real for the body? As I search for the answer in dance, my body becomes a shadowy mirage as Plato spoke of, and gradually another body, just like a transparent perfect vacuum, spreads to fill the surrounding space. Tinctura--a tint that does not exist here." Throughout the evening I saw a man in metaphysical space, trying in vain to reach another plane of existence, sometimes almost getting there.

The two women in the work clearly had set choreography, although there was an improvisational feeling to many moments. They moved with catlike sureness and a grave, reverent grace. Their movement was technical and accomplished without being formal. In fact, despite the power of their bodies, there was a strangely inorganic quality to the organization of their limbs as they floated, ran, crashed to the floor, and moved through many odd shapes and speeds. My dance-jaded eye/mind was refreshed to watch them dance and have no idea how the movement was created. All of the dance during the hour-or-so-long work was continuously varying in rhythm, timing, and quality. Each minute that passed was filled with several different efforts, shapes, and ideas.

The sound accompaniment was a mixed bag of silence and pre-recorded electronica, Mozart chorales, hardcore rave dance beats, and a poignant piano song. These musical choices, in conjunction with the moody and ever-changing lighting design of Jun Ogasawara, completed the image for me of a nightclub of the imagination. The place of the piece seemed to be an interior one, as the very edges of the space were framed in darkness. As the dance progressed, Kasai pushed into these dark edges, venturing out into the front row of the audience, going into a corner to play on the strings inside a piano that was there, or jumping onto a stack of amplifiers way in the back of the stage. He projected a kind of delicate craziness, a man in control yet attempting to vanish into unknown worlds.

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