BWW Review: BUTOH BEETHOVEN: ECLIPSE Pierces The Nether Realm
Like an earthbound Hecate - a mythical witch and the third Greek godhead of the moon - Vangeline straddles conventional boundaries while blazing forward. Continuing her mission to pull butoh into the 21st Century, this mysterious master of minimal movement cast a spell over the packed house at Theater for The New City in her latest production Butoh Beethoven: Eclipse. The Eclipse aspect of this performance in particular kept audiences enthralled during the spooky pre-Halloween story.
Clad in a dress that bled light - created from designs by Tilen Sepic with fiber optic costuming from Lumigram - Vangeline slowly flashed across the stage as if she were embodying waning phases of the moon. Her nigh imperceptible gestures seemed to cleave between this dimension and some dark nether-realm.
Eclipse was created by Vangeline to honour Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of Butoh. In that regard it felt as if she were drawing forth his spirit from another world. Her dress, with its threads of illumination, oozed a penumbra that rippled through the air in beat with her every breath. Moving with a deliberate, excruciatingly slow gait, Vangeline retrieved a circular ring of light that appeared to be suspended in the sky, and used it to frame her face. Facing forward with this ring obscuring our vision, Vangeline subtly shuddered and convulsed as if she were peering through a scrying pool at something of mind-blasting awesomeness. What did she see? Removing the moon totem to commune with us, her placid mien betraying little, Vangeline opened and closed her eyes with scrupulous elegance. Whatever burst forth through her slow-moving lashes was all she had to share with us concerning her journey to the other side. At that moment, once again, she was the blameless moon clothed in stars. A bewitching fixture affixed in the sky, drawing all eyes to her as if she were a portal to another world. Caught in her enchantment of suspended time, one failed to notice how swiftly the minutes were actually flying by. In a flash, all lights were extinguished, leaving us with swiftly fading memories of the lady in the moon as she passed on an eclipse to the other side.
Following intermission, Vangeline returned as a demonic vessel for Beethoven's shade, conducting his 5th Symphony in herky jerky movements that called to mind a zombie lumbering through majestic tunes. Though exacting in its precision, there was something less enthralling about this conjuring. With her hair flying about as she whipped the invisible orchestra into a frenzy, Vangeline could have been a priestess to the cult of resurrection attempting to recall the soul of Beethoven to earth. Whereas Eclipse felt like a communion, this heart-pounding show piece felt like a flashy ritual; more technical virtuosity than soul. While affecting and well-wrought, I preferred Vangeline in her lunar ascension.
Butoh, whether in abstract performance or enhanced by technology and uncommon narratives, is a niche field. It requires an appreciation for quieter moments and patience with stillness. The intensity that a performer of Vangeline's stature undergoes is incredible but not likely to appeal to a wider audience. Regardless, her solo performance commanded a packed to capacity 400 seat theatre.
This production originally performed on October 14th, 2017 at Theater For the New City.