Thursday, September 30
Tuesday, September 28
WORKSHOP COMMENT: from Akira Kasai masterclass on 9/27/04
an ever-quickness haunt Akira Kasai movements, a genuine curiousity weathered with great learning and an a body that speaks of 'nevermores'. this was the third workshop i have taken with Mr.Kasai, each time a body remembers how energy runs through us. his teachings are very meticulous as he lays out challenges which lead to breakthroughs and sometimes violence. his playfulness resonates with having danced and been loved dearly by audiences. the focus relates always to the breath, leading to specific strenghtening exercises, and explorations in states of disparate conditions. i remember his references to the apolloian and dionysus' (sp?) bodies. this time he refered specifically to the opposition-complimentary states of 'sense'
- as it relates to sensory information, and 'feeling' - the internal or contraction conditions of the body. Kasai led exercises in exploring the twin states, and overlaying the inhale with the sense state, and the feeling state with the exhale...further connecting the male attribute to the inhale and female to exhale. he relayed as a metaphor the structure of a magnet with it's properties of copper and iron. the copper refering to the female and iron to the male...as it also relates to the course of intake (higher through the head, where more iron is present) of breath through the body and the exhale (lower through the body as where more copper is). the class was mostly movement based, not specific choreography, in fact, his instructions were not to dance but to find ways of exploring the two states of sense and feeling with intensity. during the sense portion he called on us to 'sparkle' in the brightest and most brilliant way. the minutes we spend exploring the wild abandon of stimulating all of our senses kept increasing, until it felt like it would be more healthy to stop, but enjoying it too much to slow down. as in the previous workshops, i had danced what i wished i had thought i could. he is able to lead a room of people to move at full volume for the longest of times. and as his performance shows, he is able to sustain inspired states for the fullest of evenings. his body is so quick and composed and so very light. in all of his performance i've viewed, he injects phrases or words during his dances. this time it was 'for example...', he did say that in the class, one time as well. previously, he started his performance by saying 'nevermore, nevermore'. i remember notions he's expressed about how one is able to dance one's future, and to imagine dancing the whole globe of earth when you move. he is the inspired example and i am so grateful for his sharing.
Sunday, September 26
READER COMMENT: Review of "Pollen Revolution" by Akira Kasai
by Mikhaila, writer/director/performance artist
Sometimes a performance work is so beautiful, haunting and evocative that I have to go back and see it again. This was the case with with "Pollen Revolution", Akira Kasai's Butoh performance piece. The work of a creatively and spiritually mature artist, the piece was successful in all regards - concept, design, music and performance. Although very abstract emotionally, it communicated multiple layers of emotional nuance and the paradoxical range of the human spirit in which beauty and exquisite grace are undershadowed by
horror,limitation and unbearable tragedy.
In the first of three sections, Mr. Kasai appears as the classic Geisha in her gorgeous robes, dancing in a highly stylized and controlled manner to classical-style Japanese music. The Geisha's movements and expression epitomize the Zen-like ideals of spare beauty and perfection. the pale green of her robes patterned with flowers alludes to spring time, but this is in contrast to the mood conveyed by her expression, the music and the dance itself. The flash of red silk at her legs and sleeves, the way her robes
expose the naked vulnerability and defenselessness of her upper back combine to display the subtle sexual appeal and allure of the classic Geisha. Performed on a set of austere simplicity, consisting of a white backdrop and floor, the starkness leaves the audience to fill in the space as implied by the lighting, the performer's movements and expression and the music.
As the Geisha continues to perform her exquisite idealized dance, she is repeatedly interrupted by some uncontrollable phenomena. Faced with forces beyond her control, she begins to lose her ability to contain and maintain her carefully designed world of grace and beauty. Beset by torrents of suppressed human emotion, shaken with horror, pain and the catastrophes of the human condition, she is increasingly bewildered, vulnerable and frightened... until it all falls apart, violently shaking itself free.
The transition to the second section was performed in the dark, with costume assistants and Mr. Kasai in sillouette, his expressive hands and arms striking figures in the dark. As the lights come up half-way, we see Mr. Kasai all in black, a modern man in a grey-scale techno world. Set to modern electronic music, his movements are angular and flat, as though the multiple dimensions of his human spirit are being compressed and forced into a flat, 2-dimensional plane. The set, with its stark lines of light, shows the cracks and chasms in the grey and black walls of his existence. Mr. Kasai's modern man dances a tragic tightrope, trying to hold onto his humanity as he too is beset by uncontrollable phenomena, revealing the pain and pathos of living in a de-humanizing world.
The transition to the third section was performed in the light as Mr. Kasai stripped down to his dance jock and put on a loose fitting ivory suit. Beginning with music from the classical Western tradition, the piece progressed to a rousing hip-hop song. At this point in the hour long performance, this amazing artist (who must be in his 60's) performed multple jumps, falls and rolls. Although less clear how this section fit into the theme of the previous two, his work is a joy to watch.
Over-all, Mr. Kasai beautifully carried out the theme of the human challenge to maintain the integrity of one's Being while being swept along in the torrent of the catastrophe's and tragedies of the human condition. As a performer, Mr. Kasasi has reached a pinnacle of expressiveness - every part of his body from his face to his fingers communicates feeling, and all with out visible or obvious dance technique or repertoire of movements. This is dance at its apex, fulfilling its unique role and function as performance art by conveying layers and nuance of feeling states and experience in a gestalt of human expression
that cannot otherwise be communicated. "Pollen Revolution" more than fulfilled my three criteria for genuinely good art: an excellent concept hat is well-executed and that profoundly communicates on an emotional and/or spiritual level. One's appreciation and enjoyment of this work is only limited by one's
own ability to access the same depths of feeling and awareness as this superb artist reaches and shares with us.
Saturday, September 25
READER COMMENT: Thank you, Akira Kasai.
I saw Akira Kasai perform Pollen Revolution at On the Boards Friday night. It was a show I had so looked forward to. Half the Beatles are dead, Brian Wilson is still damaged, Kazui Ohno is quieted by his great age. Of all the seminal artists of my era, Akira Kasai carries the longest train of history while remaining at the forefront of his medium. I came to the theater with great anticipation.
A bare outline of the dance shows the master's touch. Beginning with a still geisha hidden in shadows, the stage becomes enveloped in a warmth of light where this aged figure fills the large stage with delicacy and control in a dance that looks ancient, from an culture whose depth I can only guess at. Is it Noh, is it Kabuki, I don't know, but it is obviously a very definite form the vocabulary of which the dancer seems born to. Perhaps the most exciting moment of the piece, for me, was the first move away from this soft elegance that came in a hand gesture, a gnarling of the fingers and hand that announced we were moving on, away from the traditional models of beauty. An on stage costume change in silhouetting shadow, out of the vast regalia of the geisha's kimono into the generic black pants and shirt of the modern dancer, leads into a dance whose vocabulary I am more familiar with. Out of jazzy beginning emerg! es a butoh performance from one of the planet's leading practitioners. The angles of the body become starker, the straight lines of the geisha are replaced by the apparent wanderings of a white faced phantom. The face becomes a fluid stage for expressions of anguish, glee, mischief and sorrow. The body is allowed to drop to the floor and each rising is a miracle of ascension. The physical stories of the limbs become short and less connected to the ones before. Where earlier I was Asa because I didn't know the conventions of the geisha's dance, the crisis now comes in trying to piece together a sense of what these gestures and expressions mean, where they come from, what I am meant to feel. The final section is ushered in with another on stage costume change, this time unassisted and in bright light, into a shapeless white suit. By now the dancer has been moving without interruption for nearly an hour, and the most fast paced, somers! aulting, throw your body around section has just begun. To the explosive rhymes and beats of an American rap song, Akira Kasai finishes his dance with a defiance of fatigue and age and artistic complacency. He gyrates and jumps and lands with an abandon and control that is a true transcendence of gravity and all other constraints, as if he were born to lead us to the best, newest places that dance can take us. When the lights go down and the piece ends the audience expresses itself immediately with an ovation that I hope was ample reward. There was nothing else we could give the man beyond that applause. I hope he heard us.
I always root for artists to do well. Whether it's a buddy reading poems at a small salon or a European orchestra playing some 19th century symphony, out of appreciation for their efforts and the desire that I be adequately entertained, I root for shows to be good. I had more personal reasons for wanting to be moved by Pollen Revolution. Butoh is the artistic basket into which I have put all my eggs. I argue that of all media and certainly of all dance forms, butoh has the possibility of speaking most deeply to modern humans. Its presentation of that which is primal in us, what is raw, combined with its demand that we make sense where sense can be arrived at only by employing our own personal imaginative facilities, is the biggest challenge, offering the biggest rewards, of all art forms available to us. If this wasn't to be proved at an Akira Kasai show then it probably isn't true. The dance I saw c! onfirmed everything I believe.
On the microscopic level, beyond my artistic concerns, there was another reason I wanted this show to be great. I went with a buddy from work, a carpenter with a well developed bullshit detector. While he has come to several of the shows we've done and has seemed to enjoy them, how can one be sure those aren't merely the reassurances of a good friend. I sat in the dark, getting bowled over by the dance I watched, with its progression from the antique through the contemporary and beyond, not knowing how a person with a more casual interest might be taking it in. When the lights went down and the dance ended, my friend Galen instantly rose to his feet and offered his mighty genuine sounding applause.
Thank you, Akira Kasai. Accept our blessings, I hope they keep you alive forever.
In search of
When Lane mentioned from the stage last night that OtB has been a huge supporter and presenter of butoh since the beginning of OtB, I realized that I had pretty much been in the audience at every performance – Sankai Juku at Washington Hall Performance Gallery then Meany and most recently the Paramount, and Kazuo Ohno at the Moore. But that hardly qualify me as an expert. In the role of passive audience member, I just sat there waiting and watching. What will be revealed? Will anything be revealed? Is this a story or just a series of pure unrelated expressions? Why does my Western mind demand a solid rational explanation? Is this a cultural chasm that because I’m not Japanese, I’ll never understand? This seems so individualized, so personal, not for the betterment of the group.. I willed myself to watch intently, telling my mind to shush and behave only to coax my mind back into the theatre as it had slipped out to worry about my garden, my homework, my job. I realized that my understanding of the philosophy of butoh was as limited as my ability to sit still and just experience this performance. Here’s a quick primer from a quick Google search for those like me who have been twitching in the audience, knowing that they were witnessing something profound, moving and very special – a glimpse into another culture’s experimentation with freeform movement – but needing some kind of context to satisfy our wiggling western minds. “Butoh burst upon the world in 1959 in Tokyo in a performance by Tatsumi Hijikata and Yoshito Ono that was immediately labeled scandalous by Japanese society. Violent and sexual, irrational and frightening, Hijikata danced in search of his own body. What does it mean to be incarnate on earth - "a corpse standing upright?" “Butoh's founders, Kazuo Ono and Hijikata, trained in Western dance and in the German Neue Tanze tradition. They searched for a way of moving that better fit their bodies, that was distinctly Japanese without being traditionally Japanese. In seeking a Japanese dance, they discovered something universal, a new art form, neither theater nor dance, that offered a way to overcome the distance between the dancer and the body and between the body and the universe. Convinced that the exploration of forbidden sexual passions could free the body from artifice, rejecting dance as self-expression and drawing inspiration from nature and from the imagination, from the crippled and the blind, these early Butoh pioneers gave birth to something that has revolutionized art.” Okay. Last night Akira Kasai was certainly dancing in search of his own body. Around me audience reaction was a perfect reflection of the differences between the Eastern and Western worlds. On one side of me several Russian couples started offering each other noisy commentary in barely disguised whispers and while I don’t speak Russian, I recognized the universal sound of scorn or at least the sound of young men trying to make a woman laugh. On my other side two Japanese women, maybe in their 30s, sat absolutely still, ramrod straight in total reverie and even when the performance ended seemed to be in a trance – I had to ask them twice if I could step by them to exit the row. My companion’s pronouncement was particularly harsh; he labeled the performance “Marcel Marceau on angel dust.” But I knew I had my transformative moment, the one I always wait for while witnessing dance. That perfect place where music and movement accomplish more than words or pictures ever could. It happened during the second musical movement after Akira shed his traditional garb and emerged in his black hip-hop costume. The percussive line of this wonderfully weird deconstructed music was perfectly punctuated by Akira’s hand and arm gestures to the point where I knew what would come next, that my face twitched and I was grateful that when the music ended, pure silence followed. (This was, unfortunately, also the moment when my Russian neighbors decided to resume their commentary.) So while I can’t explain it, I get it. In search of his own body, Akira Kasai’s expressiveness was pure and absolutely in the moment. It was like watching a baby sleep, the mountain weather of emotions move across his sleeping face, rays of sun followed by horror and indignation, lightning followed by sorrow, ecstasy, clouds, rain, malice and finally pure joy.
Monday, September 13
I walked out of On The Boards tonight feeling full of joy. Filled up. Through the evening watching Akira Kasai, I went through so many different feelings and experiences, but it was Joy, that I was left with in the end. First I was blown away by his command of classical Japanese dance that he opened the show with.
This is not something that butoh dancers are trained for. I wondered when in his prolific career he had time to acquire such a wonderful deep feeling and understanding in classical dance. He was so wonderful.
His age transformed, young girl, old woman. And the kabuki music that he chose for this opening scene was so powerful, and recorded and delivered deliciously.
Suddenly there is a shift in sound and light. A tree or skeletal shadow looms above him, time stops, and suddenly he transforms. I felt as if we were seeing inside of this classical dancer. Into the in-betweens of the moments. The dark twisting emotions that live inside. This is a more familiar butoh moment. Then again a shift and we back in the formal classical dance... but now there is a seed of something mad.
Something from the inside now showing on the outside like a stain. And now as we shift back and forth - inside - outside - and each time, more of the inside is showing on the outside. Until the classical dance has transformed into a wobbling dizzying out of control frenzy. It becomes funny somehow, and just at the right moment, his wig flies off, and his attendants run on stage for a hilarious silhouetted costume change. Throughout the night there is this transformation. This playing with the lines of inside, and outside. Expansions of familiar techniques. "What if classical dance could..." or "what if we take what we normally think of as butoh and we...". And he tries all of these things.
Pushing the edges, playing with the things we wouldn't expect. Expanding and expanding and improvising and honoring what comes out of his body. Like an infinite unfolding from inside to the outside. The movement comes like perpetual motion. I found myself thinking "wow, this is really going on too long"... then it goes on longer, and suddenly I find myself thinking, "Hey, I'm glad it went on longer!" It just feels good to have gone through it. He approaches the audience.
It is him, standing in front of the audience.
Challenging them. Lovingly and playfully. He draws an arrow and shoots an audience member through the head. His amazing gestures paint splatters of blood in the air as the gesture arrow splits their skull.
After the End
As I understand it---and I could be wrong---the Japanese artform of Butoh arose, like Godzilla, from the cultural trauma of having two atomic bombs dropped upon civilians, from having invisible death creep through the survivors, curling up in their cells and destroying them. (Remember how you felt on 9/11/2001, when 3000 people out of a total population of 290 million were killed? In 1945, over 200,000 people were killed in a country with a population of around 70 million.) Watching Akira Kasai, an acclaimed master of the artform, is a bit like listening to a poem in a foreign language---a language you know well enough to, say, order a meal in a restaurant. So clearly vast amounts of information are lost in translation, and one is left to appreciate Kasai's phenomenal grace and precision---particularly his hands, which are more expressive than most people's whole bodies. I have no idea what Kasai wishes to express; but what I'm left with is the sense that Kasai hopes to make us aware---gently, for we are like sleepwalkers, and with some humor, lest we think this is cause for despair---that the world has already come to an end and that we are dead, wandering through an afterlife we are afraid to recognize.
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About BLOG THE BOARDS
Who better to write about what happens at On the Boards than the people who support and attend our performances? Making art is part of a dialogue between artist and audience, and so we've created Blog the Boards...
About Our Bloggers
Beth Brooks has been kicking around Seattle for the past twenty some years, working as an arts marketer for just about every theatre in town. A rabid dance fan (she'll be quick to tell you how she took ballet lessons until she was 16 years old), you can usually find her in the audience of most dance performances. Currently she's a freelance marketing consultant. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bret Fetzer has performed in more 12 Minutes Maxes than anyone in town. He writes plays, fairy tales, and criticism, and sometimes gets paid for it. His most recent play was 'Red-Eye', about an overnight flight from Los Angeles to New York, produced by Annex Theatre.
About POLLEN REVOLUTION
Akira Kasai, revered around the world as one of the foremost practitioners of butoh dance, begins Pollen Revolution costumed as a woman in a traditional kabuki drama and gradually transforms into a hip-hop dancer. In this cross-cultural metamorphosis, Kasai erupts into an expressive, energetic dance that is frightening, moving and sure to get under your skin.
About Akira Kasai
Akira Kasai (Choreographer and Performer) studied modern dance and classical ballet but completely changed course upon meeting Kazuo Ohno in 1963. Kasai spent the next two decades studying and dancing with the founders of butoh –Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata - as well as performing many of his own solos throughout...
listen to an interview in Japanese w/ Akira
read a translation of the interview
watch a trailer for this show in flash
go to Akira's website