My first experience of Butoh by Sankai Juku in Kuala Lumpur, 2006
Performed in a dream landscape with whirling costumes, the company of six dancers blends images, sound and performance to create a truly hypnotic dance experience. The first sound heard in the theatre is that of liquid dripping rhythmically from suspended glass urns into 13 concave glass lenses. Lying on the sand, dancers uncurl effortlessly from fetal positions under caramel lighting, and weave elemental movements into a delicate show motion dance. Metamorphosing like statues of granite brought to life, dancers pulse through sand and shadow, splashed by glistening ice, which suddenly changes into carmine blood. The dynamic interplay of large and small gestures, accompanied by a lyrical and electronic score by Takashi KAKO and Yoichiro YOSHIKAWA, brings you chemical reaction of arts in the beautiful garden with sands and small water pools—cracking the kernel of the particular to liberate the universal.
Watching HIBIKI as my first contact with Butoh actually elevated my appreciation of dance to a whole different realm of experience. Never before have I witnessed a dance performance capable of commanding such sublimity and power in an almost flawless weaving together of theatrical elements to achieve pure metaphor through movements, or stillness in this case. Banking on its harmonious theme of nature and phenomenal time, HIBIKI conveys the infinitely minute yet irreversible evolution of our world in constant metamorphosis. The dance, which spans across six scenes, is disciplined and esoterically detailed. The barren image of a sand-covered stage suffused with the sense of detachment bellies rather enigmatic if not profound intentions within human embodiment. Such a discrepancy between the representation and manifestation would only contribute to the heightened aesthetic subtlety that makes HIBIKI so overwhelming to watch. Temporal displacement is further embodied by the music, be it monotonous drippings of water or the extremely loud and suspended notes during the frightening climactic scene.
A full palate of emotions illuminates HIBIKI, consummating it, yet ever annihilating the individual. Unlike dances relying on developed techniques to deliver its caliber, Butoh has instead opted for nature and organicism to rediscover spontaneous responses from the body. A good performer of Butoh might not necessarily be one in another form of dance. A Butoh dancer is remarkable for his total abandonment of ego; hence the exceptional ability to embrace sublime representations quite beyond the self. It calls for reversibility and continuity in the process of evoking intrinsic elements from his raw emotional state. A performance from within is thus compelled, tapping into that spiritual and almost mystical realm in order to assume an open channel for nature. When tension erupts in the fourth scene, it seems unprovoked and rather inexplicable in its origins. There is no struggle on the dancers’ parts, for they have merely brought to surface the long suppressed side of human nature. In HIBIKI, the metamorphosis is inevitable, forming the platform upon which primordial expressiveness of the body unleashes. This obsession with the primal body is the result of an inherent belief in the collective unconscious. White rice-powdered bodies are made cohesively one, engulfing individual ego in the whole. Even moments of self-emergence are held in unison and shared experiences. The clean synchronization of the dancers’ movements in their elevated state of mind reflects an extremely unified source from which they are responding to. On a bigger scale, it amplifies the unity of human race underneath the myriad of personalities and differences.