Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, September 7, 2001


Subtle butoh poses reveal
moments frozen in time

By John Berger

Out of the carnage of war and the cultural trauma of alien occupation came the Japanese dance form of butoh. Stark, harsh and unpredictable, butoh reflected the spiritual impact of Japan's crushing defeat in World War II and the forced -- if sometimes superficial -- westernization of Japan during the American occupation that followed.

Butoh also came out of a postmodern rejection of the ritualistic codification of traditional movement in Japanese theater and dance. The early practitioners of butoh sought instead to reconnect with the "pure" Japanese culture of ancient times.

The rules? To someone viewing a butoh performance from the outside, it may seem that there are no rules. Many butoh performers cover themselves with white body makeup in the style of some traditional forms of Japanese theater and dance. Some may use gold body paint -- or black or red or silver. Some use none. Butoh dancers may perform in elaborate costumes, or in simple leotards or loincloths, or totally nude. Or a butoh dancer may perform nude except for a belt and a strip of cloth than hangs over but doesn't hide the genital area. The cloth may bear one or more Japanese words.

Butoh dancers may perform in a group of solo. There may be music or there may not. Dancers may move wildly or in such subtle degrees of motion that they hardly appear to move at all.

Subtlety of movement will be the thing this weekend as the Iona Pear Dance Theatre presents "Passage Into Tomorrow" at Marks Garage.

"It's probably more butoh than our other performances are," said the group's creative director, Cheryl Flaharty. "Several of my dancers consider it their favorite piece because it's incredibly challenging for them to perform and it's very powerful."

The performance piece was first staged in 1994. It was inspired by the devastation of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, prompting Japan's surrender and ending World War II. Flaharty describes the work as a 60-minute gallery performance piece that explores the relationship between skin and paper in housing the soul. The performers occupy eight different places -- "installations" is the word she uses -- and represent moments frozen in time. One dancer is covered with American newspaper headlines from the final days of World War II.

Flaharty says that the group was invited to perform "Passage Into Tomorrow" in Hiroshima six years ago but couldn't come up with the funding to make the trip. She added another installation to the original piece several years ago but then couldn't find a venue here to stage it.

The opening of Marks Garage provided the performance space Flaharty had been waiting for. The new arts facility has enough room for all the installations and room for the audience to move among them and experience the performance from various angles.

"I've wanted to do this piece for a few years, but there hasn't been a space here where we could do it until now," Flaharty said.

"Passage Into Tomorrow"

Presented by the Iona Pear Dance Theatre

Where: Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave.
When: 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday
Admission: $12 pre-sale (at Hawaii Theatre); $15 at the door
Phone orders: 528-0506

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