Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Expect To Feel Your Legs: Notes on a Winter Butoh Performance

It’s disarming when the familiar becomes strange (as when you’ve been sitting too long and can’t feel your legs). And that’s what happened the night in February I was unable to find the 2800 block of wily Mariposa Street. This is a street that appears and disappears rather randomly along its route. It didn’t help that every instinct in me was off that night and each turn I made ill-begotten. Even my map made a mess of things, and the young gas attendant with his broken English and intelligent eyes steered me badly. When I found the theater, 10 minutes past show time, just up from the gas station, I mentally hit myself in the head.The theater had been hiding in plain sight.

As happens, my weird circumnavigations were soon echoed by the alogical, discursive but resonant journey taken by Shinichi Iova-Koga in the solo show Milk Traces. Iova-Koga is the founder of inkBoat and a performer of preternatural expressiveness and sensitivity.

I think of his brand of butoh as the visual corrollary of reading cuneiform writing with the help of a faded translation key. His works resemble the efforts of other butoh artists, but what sets him apart is how he’s willing to plunge deep enough into the unconscious to reach the strange terrain of the archetypical, endowing single instants of experience with waves of meaning and often disturbing beauty. With little fanfare, these moments can take one to the stratosphere and back, leading to such discursive thoughts as the nature of space/time and whether, as some physicists think, multiple dimensions exists simultaneously, folding in on each other like origami or the cerebral cortex. Could that mean that Iova-Koga’s poetry is able to touch some other space/time in a dimension at our elbows? At moments, as when he sat on an aluminum chair back and peered into an old suitcase, took out a delicate tea cup and drank, it seemed he did.

Here is a man who can fall over backwards in a chair repeatedly and make each instance newly clownish and shocking. He rolls and, tied to a vine of red cloths, finds his physical limits anew. His leaps are brought up short by the tether that smacks him back to his starting place. But rather than leaving us with a reductive image of freedom versus entanglement, Iova-Koga creates a deeper, more nuanced picture of leaving and return--a cycle in which bounding and rebound are equally valid, of comparable interest, and unspoiled by Romantic hierarchies.

Objects, too, are given poetic richness, from an egg and an onion to the almost physical sound of crickets. Kimono are not mere kimono; they are mythical coats oddly cut, layered or suspended. They echo a culture, its practices, its codes and the breach of those codes. They are also just the simple things themselves.

If one had any doubt that this is a master poet who can pluck runes from the air and make them materialize before us, Iova-Koga produced a small blackboard as the haunting performance came to an end and began to make crisp chicken scratches on it. Before long words took shape out of the chaos of lines: WHERE ARE YOU? I WAIT.

inkBoat performs a new work, Our Breath is as Thin as A Hummingbird's Spine, in July in SF.

From inkBoat’s website:

“Each motion or action should contain physical or psychological risk. Don’t be a technique automaton! Only a dance on the edge of control reveals the honest life. Fall into everything (or nothing). Our work is to transform (sometimes abruptly, sometimes gently) the space within the body. The mind is a place with a lot of mud. Learn to shine from within that mud.

Following imagery and surrendering to the moment, we’ll work in solo, duet and group improvisations. Through intensive reduction, our personal body reality and existence clarifies to reveal beauty, grotesqueness and humor.

Work with necessary tension, releasing the unnecessary to let the dance become permeable and malleable. We work from the center (tanden) to move the far-reaching limbs. Develop listening in relation to time, space and motion.

Expect to feel your legs."

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