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Born out of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan's butoh is a dance art of despair and stoicism. There is little optimism in its bones.

When the dancer uses falls, as Setsuko Yamada did in her evening-long solo, Father, the ground is not a springboard. Instead, she seems to be telling us that the path of her life is beset by brambles, and death is always nearby. When the corps in Tomoe Shizune's Renyo crawls close to the earth, there is a similar awareness of doom.

It is a dark style, dark and slow paced. It requires great physical control of the dancers and a certain selfcontrol on the part of the spectator. Only by staying at the same tension level as the dancers can one sense what they are trying to communicate. At times, that kind of concentration can be more depleting than enriching.

Shizune's company, called Hakutobo ("White Peach Chamber"), is the outgrowth of a prior group founded by the late butoh pioneer Tatsumi Hijikata. His collaborator, Yoko Ashikawa, still performs with the company, and the female corps members all use her surname.

Shizune serves as choreographer, composer, and stage designer. In orchestration, his music for Renyo was surprisingly symphonic. In style, it sounded like Philip Glass punctuated by drumrolls and the plash of falling water.

The gait of the dancers was close to the earth. They carried their weight on the outsides of their soles, curved their toes upward, then cupped their arches and proceeded with bent knees. This gave them a bowlegged stance accentuated by deep, sustained plies.

Renyo (Far From the Lotus) appeared to be a meditation on mortality, with the corps representing jizo, the garden deities of children often represented by stone statues found by the roadside. As the dancers crouched and grimaced, they seemed to be commenting on the life cycle of a central figure commandingly portrayed by Akeno Ashikawa. The effect was disturbing but not especialy moving, perhaps because butoh stoicism does imply a state beyond feeling.

The stage for Renyo, as well as for Yamada's Father, was meticulously lighted and sparely but tastefully decorated. The drop for Renyo consisted of tattered rags, which absorbed the light like an expanse of pleated Fortuny fabric. In Father, the stage was revealed before the action began. A stream of sand flowed from above. It gradually produced a low, wide dune on the stage. While this is not an original device, Yamada used it sensitively in her tribute to her late father.

Reminding her of a circumstance in his life, the dune became a place of refuge, and as she donned a pair of her father's abandoned shoes, her formerly silent stride became stronger, more emphatic, as though his spirit had united with hers.

The musical accompaniment, ranging from silence to Tibetan bells to "The Last Rose of Summer," enriched the otherwise Spartan atmosphere.
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Title Annotation:Japan Society, New York, New York
Author:Hering, Doris
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Jan 1, 1995
Previous Article:Jo Ha Kyu.
Next Article:Lewitzky Dance Company.

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