Monday, July 15, 2002

This last weekend was spent in a Butoh-based workshop. It was incredible how the tasks set here enabled such emotion to flow. Having never done Butoh before and having generalised it as an art form where you need to be painted white, move slow and act weird I didn’t expect much about what I would be made to do. I signed up for it because of one line in particular on its advertising flyer. It read, “Rather than aspiring to an aesthetic ideal, the dancer attempts to bare her/his soul, to reveal the human being.” Butoh: Shades of Darkness by J Viala and N Masson-Sekine. Yes, this is what I am to show the dancer as human being.....and if insight into methods of how one goes about this meant being painted white or acting weird I was up for it.

The workshop was indeed inspiring. The use of visualisation was very strong and relied on each dancer to embody, interpret and manifest the mental into the physical. However, it was not acting or representing the visualisation, it was becoming it, in the moment and this was the most relevant aspect of the workshop for me. I know the idea of using visualisation to evoke movement from dancers in not a new one. In fact it was the feel good “dance as if you were a flower blooming” modern dance of the 70s in America, that I grew up on. So the use of visualisation in dance is nothing innovative. However, having the guts to take on the visualisation as if it were happening to you in the moment, without worrying about an audience or their reactions to you, is quite a liberating exploration. This is probably where my ‘Butoh equals weird’ generalisation comes from. If anyone who wasn’t informed about the content of the workshop had stumbled across our activities this weekend would most certainly think there were a bunch of crazies on the loose. Then again, one would never embark upon such a workshop if one truly cared about the opinions of the public or if one weren’t partially crazy in the first place.

Jesting aside, what struck me most about the success of the workshop in terms of getting dancers to show themselves as human beings was the powerful tool of being aware, having a heightened state of perception and this, the workshop leader stressed. Every activity was done in groups and every activity started and finished at the same time without verbal communication or eye contact. The group was meant to feel the moments of starting and stopping; more difficult than it sounds when you are in a group of 15 or 30 as the case was.

For me, there really is something in this feeling perception that makes the dancers have to be alive, thinking, always ready. When I watched the dancers in this moment of readiness to begin their movements their bodies seemed electric, full of energy, like a cat waiting to pounce. There was something quite beautiful about it and as I continued to watch this state of readiness over time, even as an observer I began to feel a surge and drop of energy in the room. Hokey as this may sound I experienced it and although actively being in the state of readiness (the workshop leader had a specific name for this state but it now escapes me) was much more powerful than when watching it, it nevertheless was there.

There were many, many aspects of this workshop that I found incredibly useful for my own practice as a choreographer in search of the dancer as human being. Fortunately, I will have the opportunity to work with this workshop leader again in September, so surely more on this topic will unfold.


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