Culture vulture audiences will know Beethoven, but may not be familiar with Butoh, the Japanese modern dance developed out of the devastation of WWII that translates to “darkness dance”. It wholly rejects the conventions of classical dance by tapping into the inner life of the dance’s subject. In this case, the eponymous composer and Butoh founder Hijikata Tatsumi inspire french creator and performer Vangeline.
A row of pig masks on the back wall of the tiny theatre watches this non-speaking show that embraces the grotesque. Vangeline is dressed in a glowing white, glamorous gown made of shirt sleeves. Her makeup starkly matches, and evokes the spirit of these dead men. A red glowing heart in her hands followed by a light up conductor’s wand are a focal point, but not as intriguing as the expression that soon dominates Vangeline’s face. Her vigorous movements fill the small stage, but expression begins small, then grows into an gaping mouth and searching tongue. Her eyes are closed most of the performance but her mouth exhibits passion, struggle and ecstasy brought on by the symphony she conducts. As the music climaxes, so does she but this is not sexual…or perhaps it is?
The character the audience sees is also a non-character, more of a personification of the pleasure we feel when listening to our favourite piece of music. This creates a simple narrative, but lacks enough substance for a 45-minute performance. I want to know more about this creature but she never satisfies this curiosity. Her movements are intriguing and full of feeling, but the promised parallels between the performance and film noir never materialize. Knowing only basic information about Butoh, the tribute to the dance’s founder is not clear other than the chosen dance form itself.
Butoh Beethoven, whilst using a form unique to most audiences in this country, is certainly a cultural experience but one that is not entirely accessible to those unfamiliar with Butoh due to the lack of speech. It falls into the genres of performance art and live art and though the production contains captivating physical images and outstanding sound design, it is only fully accessible to audiences with a specific knowledge of the dance form.
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