Dreaming Trees?Flying in Nexus
P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center
Long Island City, New York
July 7?16, 2000
Reviewed by Wendy Perron
As hundreds of people were ushered onto the rooftop of P.S. 1 in Queens, the glaring sun beat down on still bodies lying in and around the gravel that covered the surface. We were in for a true butoh experience, wherein the performers expose themselves brutally to the elements and look within to bare their souls. After awhile, I saw a body under a raised structure, and another in a corner stooped under a young tree. Min Tanaka was already dancing, wearing a ragged kimono and bandages on his face, neck and fingers. One figure seemed to melt into the gravel, lifting her head every now and then to look around. A male figure wandered zombie-like, and eventually was overtaken by a subtle muscular palsy. The woman under the tree looked barely alive and something of the weathered scarecrow, which recalled, to at least one viewer, the savagery that Matthew Shepard (a young Wyoming homosexual man who was beaten and left for dead) suffered. Moving infinitesimally slowly, she drooped her head a bit more, curled her hand a bit tighter. Below, the art center?s “Bed of Sound” competed with the periodic roar of the subway, making it hard to hear the gentle Japanese songs mixed with classical piano that came to us by way of tape.
Tanaka maintained a dire body/mind state throughout the hour. He seemed to be reeling from a phantom choking, digging his bare feet further into the gravel. Sometimes he shivered as though from an icy wind; at other times, he seemed parched by the dryness of a desert. When someone passed me a sip of Evian, I felt relieved, but knew there was no relief for the dancers. Tanaka quietly traversed the roof, with its irregularities of height, until he was standing against the sky, bending back so far and so obliviously that he might have keeled over any minute. Back on the gravel, he worked himself into a kind of seizure?staggering, the whites of his eyes showing. He uprooted one of the bushes and brought the mass of dirt and roots slowly up to his chest, and stuffed it under his kimono. On the street below an ambulance screamed by. Sickling his feet to walk across the now-hot gravel, he set the plant back in its pot. A combination of the sun being behind him and the bandages on his face gave the illusion that part of his face was torn off.
For the full hour, audience members were free to come and go as they wished. But all the while, Tanaka and his dancers were traveling through a disaster, whether of an internal or external nature one cannot know. When they assembled into a ragged diagonal to take a bow, we clapped. As their bows lowered into a deeply crunched position, we kept clapping.
Although the performance was not easy to sit through, this was an edifying experience. Tanaka, who has a lifetime contract to perform yearly at P.S. 1, exemplifies the extremes of butoh, and Dreaming Trees made a human-to-earth connection that is rare in our daily lives. The other performers were Shiho Ishihara, Dana Iovacchini, Jorge Schutze and Zack Fuller.