Sankai Juku

April 26, 2010

Sankai Juku
Théâtre de la Ville, Paris

April 26–May 2, 2010

Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa


Photo: ©Sankai Juku, Courtesy Théâtre de la Ville


The Butoh troupe Sankai Juku has added a luminous new ensemble piece to its long list of commissions for Théâtre de la Ville. Well-received by its opening-night audience, Kara•Mi: Pulsation dédoublée (“split pulse”) highlights the profound discipline and expressive suppleness of this all-male company led by master dancer Ushio Amagatsu.

Butoh tempts, yet ultimately confounds, expectations. We know its origins and the diversity of its forms, but it remains undefined. Who can say what it means and how it works its spell? Kara•Mi, in accord with Amagatsu’s preference, came to its first viewers as a mystery, with little to mediate our experience except the poetry of its title and sectional subtitles. It provided a good lesson in dance-watching—perhaps in meeting any work of art—with mind and senses wide open.

Amagatsu’s set broke up bare white space with irregularly-hung Plexiglas panels streaked with fine, vertical, vein-like lines of either blood red or dark blue. The work’s subtitle suggests both the softening of pulses (dried lentils) in the cooking of dahl and the body’s response to gravity in spurts of movement, a troubled fluidity.

At the opening of the first of seven sections, a dancer enters the stage and soon drops onto his back. Three more—obscured, like him, in white body makeup and ankle-length tunics—stride in and surround him. With tenderness, they bend to lift him before slowly retracting, leaving their arms stiffly extended towards him as if framing an object of wonder. This ritualized sequence repeats throughout this section with each man taking a turn as the fallen/risen one.

—set to music by Takashi Kako, Yas-Kaz, and Yoichiro Yoshikawa—might not be intended as an homage to dancer Yoshiuki Takada, who fell to his death from a broken rope during a 1985 performance in Seattle. However, it is easy to imagine that the tragedy haunts the current work and its allusions to memory, to the drifting, insubstantial nature of substance, the invisible interior of corporeal things. This is a work conjured by the shallow wave of an arm, a cascade of golden sand, a serene shimmer of chimes. It is danced by men capable of dissolving their masculinity into images that are distinctly womanly at one moment, lionine and stylistically feral at another. 

Amagatsu’s genius as a performer and choreographer lies in his ability to guide us through states of ever-changing being. We never quite settle, never arrive, and if Kara•Mi itself seems to avoid an assertive, climactic ending, perhaps that is how it should be.