Elevate Difference

Hibiki (Resonance from Far Way) (10/20/2010)

The dancing performed by the Japanese butoh company Sankai Juku in Hibiki (Resonance from Far Away) at the Harris Theater in Chicago, Illinois, manages to invoke simultaneously everything and nothing. In choosing the word ‘everything,’ I am attempting to describe the fact that the six dancers and their choreographer execute actions that remind the viewer, possibly, of children, stones, priests, frogs, soldiers, streams, women, the wind, and a flower. By saying ‘nothing,’ I am acknowledging that the gestures and poses themselves are so controlled, so elemental, that the observer must concede that some degree of the perceived meaning or symbolism is projected.

In the beginning, lights slowly rise to reveal a sand-covered stage strewn with twelve symmetrically placed shallow glass saucers approximately a meter in diameter. Above, four glass bulbs shaped like art nouveau separating funnels steadily drip, the soundtrack either amplifying or suggesting the drops. The huddled figures of the dancers could be mistaken for driftwood or rocks, but of course unfold from their embryonic curls to entrance so completely that time itself seems somehow altered. The six tableaux directed by choreographer Ushio Amagatsu explore the very rhythms of existence—origin, end, and resurrection.

Sanjai Juku manifests conventions of butoh with the white rice powder coating, shaven heads, and simple robes of the dancers. While some versions of the school appear darkly anarchic, this dance concert is profoundly poetic and minimalistic. The performers move with such precision that their bodies come across as a series of statues with gradually changing poses placed in one location. The movement of a few can entrance so thoroughly that the remainder evaporate from the stage, unnoticed.

Amagatsu appears in a solo sequence, executing gestures like the movements of the most necessary rite of an undiscovered faith. The dancers can march through one another in crossed ranks so dense that they appear a multitude, and in the final sequence, move with such coordination that they could be mistaken for one organism. In the fourth scene—Outer Limits of Red—the dancers gather around a saucer now filled with red liquid, their lower robes augmented with red-laced bodices and dangling ear ornaments.

The laces mimic the stitches that may follow abdominal surgery, but I had to speculate—due to the corsetry and the predominance of blood-color—that this segment acknowledged something specifically feminine, but by no means consoling. At one point their hands move with cutting synchronization, first scissors, then claws. The predominantly electronic score, composed by Takashi Kako and Yoichiro Yoshikawa, mostly complements the austerity of the performance but occasionally swells with an unnecessary exuberance that might be more suited to a movie version of Hibiki.

The closing sequence resonates magnificently, a broadening aperture of light opening to silhouette the circled dancers. The following standing ovation was the longest that I have witnessed in my life, every echoing slap of palm on palm completely earned.

Written by: Erika Mikkalo, November 30th 2010