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Unwounded by Gravity

Yumi Fujitani's "Rakugaki Danse"
Nanami Kohshou's "Au bout du vent"

Reported by Diego Costa, from Paris

Butoh, the Japanese conceptual dance, can be described as defiance to Gerard Richter's theory of the non-catalogable properties of the human face: the idea that the muscles of the face are so multiple and so complex they inherently escape fascism. Butoh performance quickly expands this notion - the infinity of expressive possibilities - to the entire body. On June 16th, 2009, the Paris Butoh Festival featured Yumi Fujitani's Rakugaki Danse and Nanami Kohshou's Au Bout du Vent, two performances so different one may have to extend this expressive infinity to the Butoh genre itself.

Fujitani's improvisation session included two non-Japanese performers, who served as visual litter in the audience's attempt to seize all of Fujitani's highly complex corporeal trance. The dancers shrieked, moaned and quacked like ducks as if they were completely independent planets, blind to one another's presences but still affected by their movements whenever their bodies intersected.

It was basic Eisensteinian math: one image preceded by the next triggering a third meaning. Except that all these bodies squatted, shrank, recoiled and ran all at once, occupying different sections of the same plane of vision, like the pioneering split frames in Abel Gance's Napoleon (1927).

There is something uncanny and desperately cathartic about Butoh because it quickly swoops the audience into an unfamiliar, yet mesmerizing, sense of gravity. The limbs either barely move or they move too fast. The body never does what it "normally" would or should. It is a trance-like catharsis akin to automatic writing, and Fujitani's show added layers of complexity by featuring two white dancers by her side. If their skills were comparatively feeble, their weakness served as highlighter for the stunningly minute way Fujitani somatized her suffering in speeds unbeknownst to earthlings' waking lives.

Nanami Kohshou's Au Bout du Vent was a much subtler, more delicate affair. The audio was so minimal one could hear the growling of several spectators' stomachs. A phonograph needle scratched the rubbery surface of a vinyl-less vinyl player as Kohshou moved his arms about so slowly one would think that the audience wasn't seeing actual movement but a procession of single frames.

Photo of Nanami Kohshou by Diego Costa

While Kohshou's body unfolded itself as slowly as the laziest snail, the soft noise suddenly became a deafening static sound so violent it drove at least one audience member to storm out of the packed 60-person theater. Perhaps more people would have fled were they not hypnotized by such jarring minutiae, an audio-visual hypothermia of sorts.

Nanami Kohshou's other performance


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