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Dance Your Butoh Off: Butoh Space Dancing Comes to Stony Brook

Photo Credit: Kenneth Ho

Tetsuro Fukuhara, a few performers and several Stony Brook University students took the stage of the Wang Center Theater on Thursday evening to perform the “New Butoh Space Dance.”

Butoh is a form of Japanese dance that focuses on communicating through slow movement and authentic emotional expression. Akira Kasai of Japan invented it  after World War II.

Fukuhara entered the fray in 1972 when he studied Butoh with Kasai.

“About 100 years ago, Japanese culture opened up to western culture,” Tetsuro said through an interpreter. “Some say that part of Japanese tradition died then. Butoh was said to be the connection to lost tradition.”

In 1975, he presented his own work in Tokyo. He served Tatsumi Hijikata, one of the original Butoh dancers, in the “Story of the Seven Herbs.” In 1998, he began the “Space Dance” project, which he said was a design movement with societal significance as well as a dance.

Dr. Sunita Mukhi, director of Asian and Asian-American Programs at Stony Brook, certainly thought that Fukuhara’s art was significant enough to show to her students. Her entire AAS 250 (Languages and Cultures of Asian Americans) class was present for the performance.

“I want them to be provoked, wierded-out and inspired,” Mukhi said. “We do weird and wonderful things at the Wang Center.”

Mukhi may have introduced the show, but Fukuhara and his students stole it for the rest of the evening. The program did not, however, begin on stage. The audience who didn’t accept Mukhi’s invitation to sit outside for five minutes saw the performers dance into the theater.

The dancing itself was an interesting combination of graceful, fluid motion punctuated by sharp spurts of emotion and energy. That same energy was supposed to permeate the room, according to Fukuhara. The audience was meant to understand the performers’ meaning simply by their movements.

“It depends on the receiver, if they are open,” Fukuhara said. “If they are open, I don’t have to try to communicate.”

A key theme within the performance was dancing with one’s own body. One segment, the “spiritual journey” highlighted this a little more than half way through. Syv Bruzeau, a dancer who joined forces with the students, enclosed herself within a tube made of sheets. She circulated around the tube while Testuro provided the audience with an inside look on screen.

“You’re in your own world,” Bruzeau said after the show.

The tube itself, Fukuhara said, was supposed to symbolize the womb. Dancing inside the womb was supposed to be reminiscent of such a state.

“You get a sense that your mother is safely holding you,” he said. “You lose your balance when you go into the tube, but you don’t feel uncomfortable.”

The Stony Brook students evidently felt comfortable with Fukuhara, whom they gave a gift bag after the show.

“Tetsuro’s an inspiration,” said Alyssa Filoramo, one of the performers and a junior women’s studies major with a dance minor. “I’ve never done Butoh before,” she said, “I’m really glad I did it.”

Fukuhara’s program epitomized Mukhi’s desire for the weird and wonderful, and it will be interesting to see what strange, new thing the Wang Center delivers next.

 

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