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BWW Review: Butoh Artist VANGELINE Collaborates with Contortionist JONATHAN NOSAN

BWW Review: Butoh Artist VANGELINE Collaborates with Contortionist JONATHAN NOSAN
Photo Credit: Eva Mueller

On Sunday, April 3rd, 2016 I visited Triskelion Arts to see "7643", a collaboration between the Butoh artist Vangeline and the prolific contortionist Jonathan Nosan. Before giving my take upon the evening I think it necessary to define "what" Butoh is. A cursory Google search tells us that Butoh is an avant garde performance art with origins in Japan that allows the body to "speak" for itself, through unconsciously improvised movement. In my experience, Butoh manifests itself as a set of therapeutic exercises that reveal more to the practitioner than they do to the audience.

As executed by Vangeline (who defines her work as rooted in Japanese Butoh while carrying it into the future), Butoh enhances commonplace moments riddled throughout a framework of ornate scenarios. Working from a script of staged tableaux that explore the lengths to which an abject man will go to win over an indifferent woman, I would say that "7643" certainly fulfills this mission. I have never seen Butoh executed in a theatrical setting and though a traditional play or ballet might dispatch this entire evening of events in a matter of minutes, I don't think that it would have plumbed the emotional depths quite as movingly. Therein lies the "magic" of experiencing this unconventional dance form. Usually we can rely upon dance to explore movement and ideas through space in time to music. With Butoh, one does not see a great range of physical movement, rather one feels a great deal of internal movement that seems to pierce miles of metaphysical and psychic space. Bear in mind that any payoff to be had, even on this evening, requires a great deal of patience for the uninitiated. Again, what might be conveyed in a written paragraph comprised the breadth of this evening. Thank goodness then for this collaboration, especially for those not accustomed to watching vast stretches of stillness. With Jonathan Nosan, whose contortion seemed to take on additional layers of extremity through his emotional exertions, we had a man who quite literally bent over backwards and walked over his own hands to reach the woman that he desired. It was not much in the way of dance vocabulary but then, as executed here, its simplicity offered deep nuance, and of course the "freak factor" was a marvel to behold.

The entire evening felt like a set of stage directions being written on the wind. Lights up on a woman (Vangeline) standing crouched forward with her back to the audience. She is dressed in a golden metallic rococo gown and is facing a man (Mr. Nosan) who is dressed in a well-cut slate grey business suit. Though attired as a man of prominence, he is balancing like a jester on his hands with his legs slightly separated as if he were standing on the air. The woman proceeds to throw with unerring accuracy a tangerine at the man's behind. She repeats this six more times before standing upright and allowing her arms to fall to her sides, which has the effect of spreading tangerines all over the stage. The image that comes to mind here is of a golden hen spraying eggs all over the stage. The man performs an excruciating backbend and proceeds to "walk" in bridge position to the woman, who retrieves a quill from within his jacket, dabs it into his open mouth, and then uses his spit to write upon his torso as if he were her desk. This seems to send the woman into ecstasy even as it drives the man wild with pain. Following a sequence of further degradation and cold indifference, which has taken on a circus like quality (How far will she go? How much humiliation will he tolerate? Watch and find out!), the man takes hold of the woman's hand, which causes a transformation in them both. He stands upright and she acknowledges him as something more than a tool for her convenience. The piece comes to a close with the two facing each other. As the woman giggles with something approaching psychotically orgasmic joy, the man lifts her, and spins about with a warm smile as the lights fade to black.

Butoh, which emerged in The 1960's is still in its adolescence as a dance form. With collaborations such as what Vangeline and Mr. Nosan have devised, I think it is safe to say that the work will continue to evolve attractively and certainly intriguingly.

Photo Credit: Eva Mueller

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