The performance series Queer Butoh seems to marry two different things. But the weirdness has informed Butoh – an avant-garde movement born in Japan after World War II – since its inception.
“People who feel different feel at home in Butoh,” said Vangeline, a dancer and choreographer who founded the New York Butoh Institute, which produces Queer Butoh with Howl Arts. The performances in the fourth annual edition of the series, which begins on Monday, will be recorded on Vimeo and Howlarts.orguntil June 28th.
Queerness was part of the very first Butoh performance in 1959: Tatsumi Hijikata’s “Forbidden Colors”, based on Yukio Mishima’s homoerotic novel of that name – a Japanese euphemism for homosexuality. Hijikata, who called the genre Ankoku Butoh or “Dance of Darkness”, used an experimental dance form that combined movement, theater and performance art. To portray an original matter between a man and a boy, he stayed low on the ground, alternating between long bouts of silence and unpredictable gestures. At the climax of the play, he choked a live chicken and killed it between his thighs in a symbolic act of accomplishment.
Since “Forbidden Colors” strange topics and images have appeared in Butoh, if not instrumental. The concepts of difference and ambiguity, especially with regard to gender identity and sexuality, permeate her stories. Drag, androgyny and fluidity are basic elements.
In an email, Stephen Barber, author of Hijikata: Revolt of the Body, said: “Butoh has always been a deviant, gender-reversing, provocative, and notorious art form driven by sexual questions.”
Unlike most traditional forms of dance, it doesn’t try to please or entertain. “Butoh movements are often about reinventing the human body, “wrote Barber,” often through radical, confrontational, and even dangerous acts and a strong sexual charge. “
His bent crawls, seizure-like cramps, and silent screams aim to uncover ugly or unpleasant truths. Practitioners shy away from the word “choreography”, which implies a given order and timing. The actors are not told how to move, but what feeling they should embody. Movements are discovered rather than imposed.
Vangeline, who has been teaching Butoh in New York since 2002, said the idea for the performance series was born when a student told her that the Butoh class was the only place where he felt he belonged to the world . “In the real world, members of marginalized communities have to be tough and brave to survive,” said Vangeline. “Butoh is a very inclusive and vulnerable place, and I think queer people in particular crave this kind of security.”
In a series of sometimes emotional phone calls, the dancers who attended Showcase 2020 shared how the dance of darkness helped them explore, express, and accept their strange identity.
Mee Ae Caughey: The Shapeshifter
Drag is a cornerstone of the Butoh practice of Mee Ae Caughey, a dancer and choreographer who lives in Ithaca, New York and discovered Butoh while studying at Bard College. “It made every other form of dance very superficial,” she said.
Caughey, 43, describes her dancing as a form of shape change. In her Butoh pieces, she changes from character to character and distinguishes each new entity by changing tempo and gestures. “When I dance, I can be a man,” she said. “I can be a woman. I can be gay or straight. I can change immediately. I can explore these identities without restrictions. “
Your Queer Butoh performance “Swoon” about a repressed crush and the feelings of shame, insecurity and conflict that are often associated with same-sex attraction. “My solos allow me to dance out feelings of deep desire that I can’t place anywhere else,” she said. “It helps me to transform feelings of pain and oppression into power and connection.”
Davey Mitchell: The Power of Silence
“Queerness and Butoh are like the perfect marriage,” said Davey Mitchell, a New York dancer. The two are linked by the obligation to be inclusive. “Butoh accepts dancers at all levels and honors their voice regardless of their background. You can express yourself honestly with both. “
Mitchell, 60, trained in contemporary and African dance, said Butoh’s slow, meditative movements offered a refreshing change in pace. “Butoh is almost like counteracting my previous work because its power comes from silence.”
He calls his Queer Butoh performance “Diary of a Crazy Swan”, a vigil for the many young L.G.B.T.Q. Life lost through suicide. He hopes it will wake the audience’s senses for a tragedy that is all too often recorded as statistics, he said. “It’s not like my traditional dance numbers, where I try to make people feel happy or good.”
Scoop Slone: Assemble yourself
Scoop Slone, who became interested in Butoh while developing a geisha-inspired drag character, said, “My quest for Japanese avant-garde led me to these dance performances with extremely strange and beautiful costumes.”
The artist’s Queer Butoh piece “Fragments” begins with a painful and isolated sexual awakening. Slone, who does not use a pronoun, said, “There can be a lot of self-loathing at these moments, for queer people,” especially if you have people who tell you what you are, is wrong.
Both in history and in Slone’s elaborate costume, which consists of fragments of material such as rubber bands, cable ties, paper straws, pompoms and wood, the aim is to put together a feeling for yourself.
Slone was grateful to have Butoh during the coronavirus epidemic and said, “I often thought” Thank God I have Butoh “because it is always a safe place.”
Dustin Maxwell: Beyond the binary
Dustin Maxwell was born to a Mormon family of eight in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is a movement-based visual artist who now lives in New York. “Butoh requires that you move beyond the surface of the body and conditioned movements, but also beyond who you are and who you think you are,” said Maxwell (38).
Butoh has helped him to get rid of the binary terms with which he identifies socially, such as “gay” and “cis”. By doing so, he said: “I understood that there is no name for my gender or sexuality, only one my Gender and my Sexuality.”
In his multimedia piece Queer Butoh entitled “In a dark forest, partially illuminated: portal”, he moves in all ways “men should not” and described his choreography as “quiet, gentle, slow, continuous, meditative and worm-like. “
Maxwell said it is important to understand that the darkness that Butoh greets is neither evil nor taboo. “Darkness is the big secret, something we cannot name but we know and feel,” he said. And he wants viewers to see his performance as a joint venture: “Please know that this is an opportunity to explore the darkness and the unknown of your own body.”