Commentary: “I was going to write something more extensive …”

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Barrick staff member D.K. Sole considers Butoh, Synergic Global Art, by Patricia Miranda, Yasmina Chavez, Hermon Farahi & Julian Tanaka

I was going to write something more extensive about last Monday’s butoh performance in the Xeric Garden but time is short and the Barrick’s database seems to have an infinitely huge gulping mouth – give me facts, it says: type them out! – so here are a few notes instead.

– two performers, Patricia Miranda and Yasmina Chavez; three musicians, Hermon Farahi, Julian Tanaka and another one up the stairs with a gong. I don’t remember his name. Introduction by Dr. Aya Louisa McDonald, with recitation of her own classic-style haiku. (Were your feet cold? someone asked Miranda afterwards – Yes but I didn’t notice them, she said.)

– interesting: there was never quite a partnership between the dancers’ costumes. Not just because they were different colors but because they seemed to come from different ways of thinking about performance itself. Chavez’s clothes clownish, therefore desperate and mysterious on her twitching figure (flowery braces holding up her brown trousers), while Miranda’s clothes were stern close-fitting drama-school black with a white veil.

– other differences between them: I thought Miranda danced as if ghosts were arguing with her. She dangled or snatched her veil and she arced her arms up protestingly. She was air-blown. Chavez was driven into the ground, spasming as though the atmosphere was a weight and she was being opposed by that weight. (With her the invisible opposition was impersonal.) She lay on the path and heaved up her head: her cheeks flattened and her hair hung back, then her head sank, the cheeks and hair bulked around her and I had the impression that I’d seen a human head inflate. No arcs for her but a myriad of muscular actions.

– I thought you were going to spike yourself on a cactus, someone told Chavez afterwards, because you had your eyes closed. No, she said, my eyes were very very slightly open so I had some idea where they were. (I’d told her the same thing about the cactus. I should point out that I was closer to Chavez than Miranda, hence the greater detail of my description of her in the last paragraph. Joan Laage, an American who spent several years in Tokyo studying butoh, once wrote about the importance of de-emphasising sight as a dominant sense: “diffused or non-seeing focus allows the head and, in particular the face, which in the West is so communicative, to be equal to the rest of the body.”)

– there were two kinds of danger that I felt during that performance: there was the invisible threat or alien force of the world to which the performers were apparently responding and there was the threat that came from outside the bubble of the dance when groups of students or outsiders walked through the garden, some of them laughing when they saw what we were looking at. We, the audience, were we going to have to respond to the second threat ourselves, if they got rowdy? This was a new species of threat, not like the other one. The dancers continued their battle with the invisible.

– the lighting came in at least three colors – I noticed blue, yellow and rose – making and submerging the performance area in broken slash-shaped patches, Hermon Farahi was unified coloristically at one point in a blue drench, clothes and skin an identical blue, the hair a darker blue, this blue being with black details crouched behind his drum. (Tanaka stayed upright with a whitened butoh face. Singing a nursery rhyme at one point and pouring out a plastic bottle of water at the end.)

– Farahi, talking to us after the show, said that a performance was as exposed as an egg yolk outside the shell. By handing it to the audience you let them have permission to break it.

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