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The American Dance Festival chose to wind up its curated 75th anniversary “season like no other” with a two-part Japanese mini-festival. The first of the two parts, each being performed for two nights, began in Page Auditorium; the Festival will close with four more companies performing Friday and Saturday in Reynolds Theater.
The butoh dances featured in Page Auditorium are certainly like no other — except other butoh dances. Butoh is very theatrical and highly stylized, and it is not balletic or lyrical or romantic. With butoh dance, you can be sure that most of the performers will be nearly naked and fully covered with white body make-up, perhaps augmented with costumes of strange and tattered grandeur; that there will be material about the sufferings of life and the connection of this world with the spirit world; and that the images and actions will be of surpassing weirdness — other than that, all is unpredictable, as butoh is ever in the process of self-renewal.
The best-known butoh group to viewers in this area is Dairakudakan, which the ADF has been presenting here since 1982, when the group began touring outside Japan. For this visit, the ADF commissioned a work to premiere at the Festival. Choreographed by butoh master Akaji Maro, and featuring him along with 18 dancers from Dairakudakan and Kochuten, along with 17 more ADF dancers, Secrets of Mankind is a large-scale spectacle. Set to music by Robert Kaplan, the work comprises six quite different scenes that are a challenge to link mentally but are nonetheless engrossing, especially “Coffins-Men.” One doesn’t exactly “make sense” of a Dairakudakan performance — you are led up to the possibility of a Zen enlightenment. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. Whichever, Akaji Maro is an extremely compelling performer. In a way, he is a bit like Charlie Chaplin, making you feel volumes with the slightest gestures. He always makes me feel grateful for the mysteries of life and somewhat embarrassed at inadequacy of words at conveying the experience of his art.
The evening opened with the world premiere of Takuya Muramatsu’s …Gosh, I am Alive, performed by Kochuten. Kochuten ("Paradise in a jar") is the name of Dairakudakan's Tokyo studio — and the name of the younger butoh troupe that evolved there out of the older group. Kochuten leader Takuya Muramatsu had been a Dairakudakan dancer and choreographer (he and an earlier work of his were seen at ADF 2003), and his prowess is in full view in the new work.
The narrative in this work is much easier to follow than in some butoh pieces. Basically, it is a story of a powerful entity brought low… but to happy effect. I thought it was extremely funny (though I didn’t hear anyone else laughing). After a mixture of Japanese electronica and taiko drumming in the earlier sections, the coda, in which the fallen Muramatsu rises out of the blackness with wonder on his face, was set to an instrumental version of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black.” If you’ll remember, the lyrics include the lines “I could not foresee this thing happening to you/ If I look hard enough into the settin sun/ My love will laugh with me before the mornin comes.” This brilliant ending had me laughing uncontrollably at the marvels of hybridized global culture.
The program continues July 17. See our calendar for details.