Morning class with Jay yesterday was less physically taxing than Tuesday, but also more philosophically enlightening. That's partly because Jay spent much of the time refining the smallest of details related to the very basic elements of his choreography and, in doing so, explaining what distinguishes engaged movement from pedestrian movement. Much of this centred around our practicing of different versions of the butoh walk, which I was happy to see return. One image that Jay gave us was to imagine ourselves as Buddha walking on water while holding a tray of water on which we, again each our own Buddha, were in turn walking on water, and so on ad infinitum. As we completed our slow steady tours across the studio floor, Jay kept repeating this mantra, while also inviting us to feel the farmers threshing wheat on our calves, the forest growing from our shoulders, and the orchid we were also holding at our throats. Thinking about how all of those images combine to move one's body with intention rather than moving the body mechanically to approximate some perceived external representation of said images is what distinguishes butoh from other kinds of dance. As Jay reminded us, his choreography is mostly pretty simple, and frequently repetitive; if it's performed mechanically, without bodily engagement and mental intention, it will look boring. But when one is engaged and intentional it can be beautiful and it can feel, for both performer and spectator, that time has in fact expanded to open up "the space between," or what in Japanese is referred to as ma.
After lunch we devoted the entire afternoon to putting most of Jay's choreography together, from the dragging and rolling sequence on the floor through to the arm bumping with our partners. We didn't get to the tick-tock sequence that follows the bumping, and there may me more yet to come, but it was nice to see how most of the parts are linked and, more especially, how we are meant to transition between them. It was a bit of a slow and laborious process as Barbara, working from a print out that she'd asked Molly to type up, had us go through each sequence over and over again, insisting that we get every detail into our bodies before moving on. This meant a lot of stopping and starting, and also some tense back and forths between she and Jay, but at the end of the day I was certainly more confident in my knowledge of the material (if not entirely competent in its actual execution). As Barbara said just before our dismissal, she knows that her methods can seem harsh, but it's the only way she knows to get us to learn an hour's worth of demanding choreography in nine days. And she added, with atypical generosity, that we should applaud ourselves for even making the effort, as many professional dancers wouldn't consider submitting to the process.
Not that Barbara got all warm and fuzzy. As I was leaving Jay had me show her my hip bruises from all the floor rolling we've done, and whose robust mauve tones he was fascinated to discover he had caused in the morning. Barbara's response: "Boo-hoo."