Speaking of Speaking of Dance…

The first Speaking of Dance took place Tuesday evening at the Mowafaghian Cinema at SFU Woodward’s, and it was fascinating. It made at least one of us want to go right back to school and study this stuff in more depth. Yes it did.

UBC’s Sharalyn Orbaugh, whose appointment to the university straddles the Asian Studies and Gender & Women’s Studies faculties, brought a huge amount of context  to Sankai Juku’s impending visit November 5 & 6. If you’re coming to either show, we HUGELY recommend arriving early, as she is also delivering the pre-show talk at 7:15pm both nights. Like Speaking of Dance, this talk is free (with your performance ticket) and will give you plenty of food for thought.

Orbaugh’s research centres on ideas of corporeality in modern Japan, and her take on butoh and its development, as well as Sankai Juku’s place within the artistic movement,  is informed as much by gender studies of the body and historical context as it is by dance history.

Among the many things we learned, (and apologies, this is a quick rundown of a brilliant lecture, well-delivered):
Butoh has numerous things in common with both Noh and Kabuki theatrical forms, including the use of contorted postures, masks and disguises, stylized movements, glacial pacing, and an artistic attempt to capture the “essence” of the concept being performed.

Japan modernized more quickly and any other country, ever, but following this period of tremendous growth, European societies still did not consider the Japanese to be “civilized.” There have been papers written proposing that all modern Japanese art exists as a reaction to this troubling idea.

As an avant-garde movement, butoh isn’t and has never been popular entertainment in Japan. Ushio Amagatsu’s cousin was in attendance, and she mentioned that she was the only member of her family to attend his university graduation. Even in Japan, especially in its early forms, butoh is considered “weird.”

One of the founders of butoh, Tatsumi Hijikata, was born into abject poverty in rural Japan in 1928. His family was so poor that one of his sisters was essentially sold into prostitution, and he never saw her again. He once told an interviewer that, when he danced, he was dancing with the spirit of his sister. Isn’t that heartbreaking?

~ by DanceHouse on October 28, 2010.

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