Friday, June 26, 2015

Wreck Beach Butoh Boot Camp: Day 4

Yesterday Jay introduced the concept of ma from Japanese aesthetics, which translates loosely as the gap, space or pause between objects or events. He was talking about this in terms of the time we needed to take between our movements in the bear walk that he had just taught us--not just in terms of slowing those movements down, but more crucially in thinking about the structural relationship between those movements. Thus a bear might lift and lick its paw in a slow, languorous arc, but it will also just as likely flick that arm back down to the ground and swivel its body and head to the left in one quick movement (especially if it senses a threat or smells prey).

I was also intrigued by how the class ended yesterday. Every day Barbara has slowly been adding to and building upon the new choreography for the main Icarus section of the piece. I think we have just over 20 minutes of material now. But in addition we have been learning other discrete bits that I gather will be attached to or frame this section, together comprising an hour-long performance. Some of these bits are from past shows: the Chef; Pirates; etc. Some are new: such as the cat-cow gallumping that leads into the aforementioned bear walk; or the series of fourteen poses that Jay taught us just before we broke for the evening.

The poses are all based on photographic images of classical antiquities and Renaissance sculptures, and our challenge was less to mimic each pose exactly (though Jay and two of the workshop participants close to him did spend perhaps more time than was necessary figuring out the positioning of various limbs from the mirrored images) than to find a way to move--or, more properly, dance--between them. Easier said than done when the poses have one lying on, arising from, and then descending back down to the ground--and not necessarily in that order.

Apparently Jay has used this method before to develop what I guess I would call the butoh equivalent of tableaux vivant (and given the white body paint we'll be wearing in performance, the analogy makes some sense). Butoh is largely an image-based dance form, in which phrases like "growing wings" and "walking like a bear" are used less to reproduce the form than the spirit of these images in one's body. So I was struck by the idea of actually seeking out specific bodily images as the basis for group movement. Whatever the theory behind the method, it was quite stunning to watch us all move through the poses together. And Jay's method for teaching the poses to us in the limited time we had was also quite canny: he actually taught them to us backwards, beginning with the last pose and ending with the first, and having us cycle through them multiple times as we accumulated new ones.


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