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San Francisco Butoh Festival. (National: `Dance Of Darkness' Finds Lightness Of Touch).


If it is the purpose--or even the mandate -- of a dance festival to alter preconceptions and extend visions, then the seventh annual edition of Brechin Flournoy's butoh festival scored an unqualified triumph. Almost nothing was what it should have been during the three ticketed events of this popular summertime celebration.

Think ankoku butoh (dance of darkness)--the Japanese movement form inspired by post-Hiroshima angst and influenced by Mary Wigman-era German expressionism--and the image that settles in the mind is one of shaven, chalk-coated, undraped bodies locomoting through space with the speed of commuter-hour traffic. No doubt about it, despite (or maybe because of) its high seriousness, the school has lent itself to vapid posturing; an element of camp was bound to creep in.

But specialists in the field now talk of a post-butoh generation in Japan and it was those artists, several of them making their San Francisco Bay Area debuts, who left the most lasting impressions. If you were looking for a butoh tradition, Yan-Shu's Zunnja, the middle attraction on the August 1 "Japanese New Wave" program, began by exploring familiar terrain. Three men in skivvies suggested living statuary in the semi-darkness, as the company's founder, Kinya "Zulu" Tsuruyama, metamorphosed from priestly figure into a faceless monster in brown chenille, menacing the trio by redefining the stage space with an endless rope. But then, the dynamic changed and a subversive element crept in. During a frozen unison, one performer patted his neighbor's posterior and tickled him mercilessly; it was a subtle but effective repudiation of a tradition.

Even more unorthodox was Looking at Far East (at least the four episodes performed here), a wry satire on Japanese customs, delivered with extraordinary panache by the Kyoto-based duo who call themselves op.eklekt. Garbed in costumes that owed as much to John Tenniel as they did to samurai movies, Nobuo Kanetani and Mutsumi Oku gave away the game early. In the tea ceremony, the couple punctiliously distributed canned soft drinks toted in plastic shopping bags and snapped photos of each other. In "Tennis Training," the pair sparred with a weird assortment of rackets. In "Oseibo," the end-of-the-year gift-giving custom, the duo attacked an endlessly wrapped package, groveling before each other with exaggerated politesse. At the end, they deluged their audience with party favors; icons may not have been smashed, but they were a bit defaced.

With No Parking, the high-energy collisions and tumbles of the five-member NIBROLL (directed by Mikuni Yanaihara) arrived like a pistol shot. The snazzy projections and films of contemporary Tokyo streetscapes suggested a society hurtling toward destruction. The five dancers, clad in school and military uniforms, moved in an aggressive style indebted to contemporary Quebecois choreography, and structure was a problem, but NIBROLL's ferocity of attack was worth remembering.

A rare visit (the first since 1984) by Kei Takei reaffirmed her honored place in the butoh tradition. A recent solo, Absence of Izanagi, proved a mesmerizing display of musculature and, thanks to Somei Satoh's spare piano score, an evocative metaphor of obstacles conquered. Part 8 of the thirty-one-part Light was a hilarious striptease in reverse, as the topless Takei methodically bound herself with a variety of pillows, rendering the performer immovable. The good humor of this enduring artist (who studied with butoh progenitor Tatsumi Hijikata, through Juilliard) and her gift for imbuing even the most pedestrian gestures with expressive inflections made this act of reacquaintance a moment to cherish.
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Article Details
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Author:Ulrich, Allan
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Nov 1, 2001
Previous Article:The Seven Deadly Sins. (National: Dancemakers Put New Spin On `Sins').
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