Genre: Dance and Movement Theatre
Venue: Blue Elephant Theatre, 59a Bethwin Rd (Entrance in Thompson’s Ave), Camberwell, London, SE5 0XT
My evening at the Blue Elephant Theatre gave me something to think about how I come to view performances that demand knowledge of non-Western cultural forms. An evening of butoh-inspired dance is by definition deliberately difficult to describe conventionally, so saying, for instance, that conceptually The Other is about a moth and a man moving towards the light and that My Hometown is in my Shoes is an exploration of how shoes have a big bearing on how you connect to locus, your place of belonging and your home, sounds a bit shallow. Based on my limited understanding, this may be because the central tenet of butoh avant garde dance is not about ‘anything’ but about the absurd and grotesque embodiment of human movement itself.
The first thing that is striking about The Other and My Hometown is in my Shoes is the clear lines and conscious attention to detail, both choreographically and through performance elements such as their use of costuming, projection and lighting.
The Other is devised by Sonal, Genovel Andrei Alexa and Lucia Tong and performed by duo Alexa and Tong who represent the ‘man’ and the ‘moth’. The simple elegance of the dynamic projection (by SOnal, Luc Song & Maaike Anne Stevens) of a growing tree upstage centre contrasted to the stillness of the two dancers in front of the large (but not cycloramic) screen is an absorbing opening. The man wields a staff and is costumed in the white robes commonly associated with sage-like males – Socrates, Plato et all. He stands upstage on the left side of the screen. The moth is still cocooned as a larvae-like slug in a white Martha Graham ‘body bag’ in which its body is beginning to emerge.
The multi-foci are surprisingly hard to take in all at once: the changing image on screen which seems to be yelling its references to a patriarchal Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and the ‘Tree of Knowledge’. As I try to concentrate on the figures on screen to verify who they are I miss the movements of the performers on stage and visa versa. Similarly, as I look at the slowly emerging Moth I miss the upstage movements of the Man wielding his staff in warrior-like style. Perhaps this is the point…perhaps it is not.
For the majority of the time in the dance, however, the audience watches the emergence of the moth through the chrysalis and then through the man’s unwrapping of her wings which are wrapped in tightly bound rope. The release of wings is quite spectacular as yards and yards of black shiny cloth literally unfold against her small slim body.
The culmination of the performance is the contradictory image of a dominating and fully emerged beautiful black creature, created through shiny, satin body bodice and wings and the Lucia Tong’s long black hair. The tension seems palpable and is held fixedly as the lights dim to black and the performance ends. Could it be a temporary domination which might be overturned in an instant?
The other half of the programme, My Hometown is in my Shoes (Mi Patria son mis zapatos), is a very different piece. Choreographer and dancer, Florencia Guerberof, focuses on moving feet and the variety of shoes that dress them. It is extremely energetic and Guerberof’s accomplishes a polish and precision in her racy expose of walking and running.
The dance opens with musician Elizabeth Nott on percussion beating out a rapture of rhythms which is then given over to the rhythmic pulses of Guerberof prostrate body, wearing well-worn men’s shoes which seem a little too big for her petite frame. Remaining on her back, she ‘dances’ as if she was standing up. It is a uniquely disconcerting view of dancing itself, as the feet flay about not making contact with the solid floor.
The choregraphy seemed to then be framed by dance phrases which ranged from quasi-tap routines and Spanish flamenco but which at no stage become these styles. All movement is subverted into further frenetic movement which is occasionally the cause of the dancer’s too-hysterical laughter and Najib Coutya’s wonderful singing and playing of the oud.
The final image of the dancer at the centre of a circle created by a variety of pairs of shoes was very curious. As she ‘tries’ different ones they call up different responses and movements and so ‘the dance’ continues in its distortion of a ‘variety show’ of this and that and another thing about continuous movement. The impression is of fleeting steps that seem to barely touch the earth. Perhaps this is the point about shoes and homes…perhaps it is not. Regardless, I look forward to viewing further work by Florencia Guerberof whose vision for seeing new material for dance seems to match her talent to create it.
As the programme specifically alluded to ‘butoh-inspired dance’, the audience is left in a sense with no choice but view the work as experimental and avant garde. The composition of the two companies that work to create The Other and My Hometown is in my Shoes are in themselves cross-cultural and it would be interesting to know how important that had been in the creation of their ‘butoh-inspired’ work. The performances have left me with more questions about how such experimental work comes into being. Perhaps I have been butoh inspired…
Reviewed by Josey De Rossi Thursday 6th October 2011