I went to my first 'Butoh' performance last weekend, at Dock 11 in Berlin. According to wikipedia (which we all know is God's truth)
Butoh (舞踏 butō?) is the collective name for a diverse range of activities, techniques and motivations for dance, performance, or movement inspired by the Ankoku-Butoh (暗黒舞踏 ankoku butō?) movement. It typically involves playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, extreme or absurd environments, and is traditionally "performed" in white-body makeup with slow hyper-controlled motion, with or without an audience. But there is no set style, and it may be purely conceptual with no movement at all. Its origins have been attributed to Japanese dance legends Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno.
I had never heard of it until I lived in Berlin. Its seems quite popular here. And seeing as I just wikipedia'd it right now for this blog I never really knew what it was, or what differentiated the movement from other forms.
I found out about the performance through a musician/poet/artist acquaintance who was performing the live musical accompaniment, so I decided that this was as good a time as any to finally find out what its all about.
From reading posters/hearing people talk my hint of an idea was that Butoh was very conceptual, small movement and a bit weird.
My impression after? Er, I'm not sure. I found it hard to understand why it has to be defined with a name. I would say it was like performance art. But I guess its to do with the process.
I didn't dislike the piece (it was a solo) but I wasn't consumed by a desire to see more/find out more about Butoh.
But one bit was really really special for me.
The audience were sat on two sides of the space and the performer, Yuko Kaseki, was inbetween.
At on stage she stopped right in front of me in a square of light. And when I say right in front I mean about three inches from my legs. I had to uncross them quickly for fear of booting her in the head.
But I it was such a new perspective. Never ever, as a member of the audience, have I been so close to a performer. All of a sudden I was catapulted in to the light and became, in some way, a part of the performance.
Yet I wasn't. I was watching. I could see every muscle twitch, see the sweat, see her vertebrae. When she entered the square of light she was lying in the fetal position and looked like a little sleeping child. I had a sudden urge to reach out an touch her.
I don't think I'll ever have such an intimate moment in a performance again. I really felt like I had intruded in her world. Yet at the same time, she had chosen it. She chose to share it.