Looking for a sensory journey in choreography

TORIFUNE project summer 2016, Japam/UK

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Mosquito bites, cicada, sizzling sun, brown rice, white surf, humidity, low table, burning sand, fresh wind, mosquito burner, bamboo forest, morning glory, shadows, convenient store, snow capped Mt. Fuji, school holiday and stillness. 

 

I participated in the TORIFUNE Butou-sha intensive workshop in Japan August 2016.  TORIFUNE has been co-led by Kayo and Yukio Mikami since 1991.  Kayo studied with Tatsumi Hijikata (founder of Ankoku Butoh) directly in the 70s/80s and TORIFUNE strongly carries Hijikata tradition up to this day.

We stayed at TORIFUNE’s traditional Japanese house in Oiso.  The house is situated in the foothills, which offers cooler temperature and the workshop was held mainly at their open-air theatre (Black Golden Pavilion) back to the bamboo forests in the quiet residential area.  Summer in Japan is extremely hot and humid.  A day started at 5am, the sun had been already up and so had the cicadas.


‘What can be expressed emerges through something not expressed (Hijikata)’.  This highly controversial concept is at the core of Hijikata method.  The body as a vessel* as the title of Kayo Mikami’s book on Hijikata method goes, as if to invite another being - being moved opposed to moving. It is a transformation from the expressive to reflective body where a viewer draws own experience to a performer.

 

The most exciting learning was the concept of ‘floor’ in Hijikata Butoh, which differs from any other occidental dances.  Solid floor gives the power to rise and reach high and far when pushed.  All the dance form starts from this principal whereas Hijikata challenged this fundamental rule.  His dance starts from a muddy rice field, perhaps not even standing, sink when pushed then float. It suggests the Japanese agricultural body as if accepting gravity, the focus is in, in his term ‘Suijyaku-Tai, a weak body’. 

 

 

Waking up in one of the three very thin futons laid parallel, we would say shape of ‘river’ in Kanji in the four and a half tatami-mat room right next to the dark quiet corridor.  Putting my arms and head into the training clothes dampness had been sneaked in before me.  Cleaning the big estate following the rota such as ground floor (kitchen, bathroom & lounge), first floor (bed rooms), toilets, outside (entrance, garden & street), theatre space and so on. While cleaning the dampness of the clothes merged into my body temperature then this would be soon replaced by sweat.


Hijikata’s Butoh seeks body’s transformation.  His principal walk (Sunpou no Hokou) aims to create a perfectly aligned empty vessel through the body & mind within the theatre space.  The walk was thoroughly guided by the imageries as if aiming to erase one’s physical body.

 



Sunpou no Hokou

-Plate full of poison on top of the crown

-Inner guts suspended like a Butcher’s meat

-Feet stepping on the shard glasses (Blade)

-Forests at the back of the teeth

-The eyes turn into glasses and the third eye on the forehead

-Gentle air circulating between arms and the torso, and between the legs

-The arms beside the legs kept still

-Softening the chest (weak body) opens the back

-The sacrum drops vertically to the floor

-Total weight shift one foot to the other

-The suspended body by the strings (cob webs) from all the joints and top of the crown


 

Furthermore

- Being a ‘measure’ (Sunpou) shifting from A to B in the space

-Not walking but being made to walk or pushed from behind

-Moving together with invisible bodies besides you.  They move so you move and you move so they move.

-The body merges with others as you pass others.  Your body gets diluted

-As if walking through the wall, leaving a ray behind and sense of space above you

 

 

I sank into bottom of the quiet pleasant seabed where the fresh wind from the bamboo forest travelled through.  Remembering my childhood memory of a school swimming lesson in summer.  Strong sun, noise of chattering & splashing water echoing with teenage girl’s excitement were all distorted as I dived deep into the water, far away where time ran slowly.  Michizo Noguchi established Noguchi Taiso (gymnastics) at similar time to Butoh.  After the war Japanese PE focused on building muscles whereas Noguchi aimed to regress towards our original form, a cellular organism.  ‘Washing the bones’ ‘Pleasure is your great teacher’.


I reflected TORIFUNE findings on my solo making in my current production MANJUSAKA The Equinox Flower*.  Finding new ways to embody imagery, word & visceral sensation. 

Manjusaka is a vivid red flower, which blooms at the time of autumn equinox when the dead and living are believed to converge.

The first part was inspired by ‘Kusozu*’ Japanese medieval watercolour illustrating stages of decomposition of the human body.

Stillness, skin discolouration & bloating, bursting & escaping body fluids, skin slippage and finally scavengers help a further decomposition to clean the bones.  Creating an absent body lying down overlapping images from Kusozu.   The body fluids start to swell and develop into a Tsunami.  The body gets pulled at the bottom of the waterbed, followed by earthquake shaking the body from tremor to extreme convulsion.  Violence in stillness.  No human emotion or perception involved.  Sound of crow, water and metallic drawn were composed by Nick Weeks.

 

 

 

I wonder what time they started crying.   Cicadas only live 7 days to be said.  7 years in the soil and 7 days flying & crying and they dye.   I wonder how many of them are producing such a constant strong sound and how many of them are right now under our feet waiting?  Today they say ‘mean, mean, mean, mean, mean, mean’ next day they say ‘so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so’ another day they say ‘shei, shei, shei, shei, shei, shei’ (thank you in Chinese).   As the sun goes down mosquito emerges.  6 o’clock is so called ‘Katoki (mosquito time)’ double meaning to ‘turning point’ in English.  Good old Kincho mosquito burners are always good friends of ours.


Hijikata created a Butoh-fu (notation) with the image-language, which synthesizing sensory presence and form in choreography, for his case a fusion of his original landscape of North East Japan and often with occidental arts such as Francis Bacon, Henri Michaux, Gustav Klimt, Goya, Picaso and so on.

Referring to my own landscape rather than tracing Hijikata’s childhood landscape the image-language was sourced from my writings on mundane encounter during my stay in Japan in my own language.  From the sound of pouring rain to hot and humid summer’s stillness in my mother’s garden, the words which most resonated to my feeling state were chosen as a starting point, ie black swallowtail butterfly, red goldfish, green soda float and detailed investigation followed.  The task was to bring the sensation and a form together in choreography.

 

A soda float is a drink sickeningly green soda with scoop of ice cream with tinned red cherry.  Hijikata would say ‘deceive your nerves to be IT’.  This is easier to be said than done.  I cannot be a scoop of ice-cream floating in the sickeningly green soda with tinned red cherry and seeing the world as IT.  I started exploring the sensation of the head floating then transferring this sensation to the whole body.  Ice-cream just bobbing up and down feeling the red cherry in silence. 

 

 

Finally our first meal of the day at 11am, brown rice based vegetarian meal (two meals a day).  I must say that the meal was simple but balanced and very tasty.  We all sat around the low table in the theatre space, everyone was either kneeling or cross-legged eating like a one big family.

 

-Brown rice, miso-soup, stair fry (aubergine, green paper) and pickles (aubergine, carrot, cabbage, cucumber and kelp), black sesames & salt, watermelon, tofu, natto (fermented soya beans), Kimuchi (Korean pickles), tomato & onion salad, blue berries,  sweet corns & vegetable tempura.  Not all at once though.  A moment of deep satisfaction, cradling into the stomach.


Incorporating with newly learnt Hijikata walk I began altering the walk from an aligned empty body to a quality of vulgar, raw, unsophisticated, common and comical opposed to ‘sacred & elite’.  The link between the pelvis and breaking alignment were explored somatically in Workshop Exchange group.  Movement initiated from the pelvis adding the qualities brought an unexpected chaos in the body and we danced to Elvis, was a good fun.


Next transformation was a Red Goldfish.  Sink to float Hijikata walk and Elvis pelvis were combined with the fluid sensation within and outer environment, ‘washing the bones’ seeking buoyancy which appeared to be comical with sound of German pre-war operetta.  Goldfish only has a memory of 3 seconds.

The last part was inspired by the black swallowtail butterfly in my mother’s garden.  Sensation through the skin such as summer’s humidity, temperature, light, sound and stillness were particularly studied.  High humidity developed between air and water, the butterfly became partly a ray swimming at the seabed.  Butterfly in Japanese culture has something significant.  If you see a butterfly in unexpected place we often say the butterfly carries a dead person’s spirit.  I started chasing a butterfly circling around then further ‘I‘ chasing a butterfly became the butterfly itself.  Ongoing process of lost and found in setting choreography correlating with sensation and form was challenging.  And of course this is Butoh.  Aim is not illustrating what they are but to evoke audience’s imagination!

 

 

‘How did man-kind start dancing and what did we find through dancing?’ Perhaps dance had not been developed if human remained quadruped.  To become biped we were freed from our merely functional body and given a possibility to become its purpose.’ Mr. Hagiwara said.

 

 

I feel so privileged to touch closer to the original Hijikata Butoh in 10 days with TORIFUNE.  Learning how to learn, big ‘Thank You’ to Kayo-san & Aya-san.  The project was greatly supported by Arts Council England and Earl Street Creative Space, Hastings.  I would like to convey my sincere gratitude to all the people who supported my journey.

 
TORIFUNE's Black Golden Pavilion 
 

Training on the Oiso beach

 
The first meal of the day
 
At dusk, mosquito time
 
Reference/Links

The Body as a Vessel Kayo Mikami (English translation) Link

MANJUSAKA, The Equinox Flower: Link

Kusozu:  Link 

 

 

Special thanks to:

Arts Council England

Earl Street Creative Space:  Link 

TORIFUNE Butoh-sha (Kayo & Yukio Mikami): Link 

Hijikata Archive, Tokyo: Link 

Sally E Dean, Ana Barbour & Eeva-Maria Mutka