Arts » Performing Arts

But, what is Butoh?

International artist brings rare dance form to the Q.C.



Fitting into the vein of "dance experiences," Butoh (pronounced boot-oh) never quite caught on in the way that silly entertainment forms like karaoke did. The unfamiliar Asian dance form emerged during the late 1950s in post-World War II Japan, where it deviated from more traditional dance-theatre styles of that time. Butoh brought new aesthetics to the table, as it is rooted in expression that often projects both beautiful and grotesque elements. It comes alive through hyper-controled motions and surreal choreography. Luckily, performers like Beijing-native Du Yufang, 30, are keeping it alive and well.

"Butoh, for me, is to seek something, an unknown part of your body. I use Butoh to give some light to the dark side of my body," Yufang says.

You can see her in Charlotte when she performs at McColl Center for Art + Innovation on March 4-5 with local performing arts group, Triptych Collective.

Yufang will present new work that uses the present as an outlet for engaging in bodily discovery. She describes her work as being first and foremost about transformation, but explains that it can be differnt for every Butoh dancer. Yufang doesn't think along the lines of beautiful and grotesque. She explains that's partially because she isn't trying to tell a story, but she does believe audiences can draw a mix of adjectives and interpretations from the dance form.

By viewing a video of Yufang posted on McColl Center's website, you can get a taste of the avant-garde nature of Butoh. In the video, shot in Chengdu, China in January 2015, she combines robotic moves with soft, peaceful and, at times, vulnerable positions.

There's a sense that Butoh could be a kind of dance therapy and Yufang admits that when she conducted research on Butoh in Japan back in 2014, she noticed a shift towards the healing movement. But Yufang says that isn't the purpose for her. While she stresses that dance therapy can happen naturally, she doesn't use it for self-help. She attempts to hide her own identity and presence on stage. Oftentimes, the movement is influenced by the space around her.

"Asian dance isn't as much about movement and gymnastics, but rather we think about atmosphere and how to create a different quality of the movement. Our movement is more influenced by the space, so the sense is not that you want to dance or jump, but it comes as a result from the lighting and the sound and from the enjoyment and it touches your body and the environment pushes you to move," Yufang says. "It's something different between movement and dance."

At the center, she'll be dancing solo, though she'll be joined by musician Andy Hasenpflug, who has collaborated and/or composed works for a variety of dance groups and choreographers. Hasenpflug teaches at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Penn., where he lectures about music and dance and composes music for the dance department and visiting performers. This includes Yufang, who is doing a series of workshops and performances there prior to her stop in Charlotte and before returning home to Japan.

Hasenpflug also serves as music director at the American Dance Festival in Durham and has ties to Charlotte. Eric Mullis, co-founder of Charlotte's Triptych Collective — who will also be presenting new works at McColl — is a friend and has done music collaborations with Hasenpflug in the past.

For Mullis, Butoh's experimental nature makes it a good fit for a joint show with Triptych Collective, who share similarities to the dance form.

"The Triptych artists come from a wide range of dance backgrounds and when we work together we don't rely on codified dance technique — like ballet or Graham technique — but work to develop original movement vocabularies for particular works," Mullis says. "Similarly, Butoh does not have codified technique and it generally emphasizes that Butoh artists dig into their personal experience as they create and perform. Butoh also traditionally uses live music which has often been important for Triptych collaborations."

On Friday, Triptych Collective will present a piece called "Phasings." Mullis describes it as "a sextet that investigates how musical composition structures used by Steve Reich can be translated into dance choreography." Then, on Saturday, they'll showcase "Safety," a larger group piece that will be accompanied by local band, Ghost Trees. "It explores the manner in which social movements are formed and how individuals experience safety within the context of a particular social movement," Mullis says.

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