Need some excitement after F1? Catch this rare event in Singapore: a gorgeous butoh-dance piece by world-adored and multiple award-winning butoh dance company Sankai Juku. Returning here for the first time since 1990, it will be staging ‘Tobari—As If In An Inexhaustible Flux’ at this year’s Da:ns Festival.
Insing seized the opportunity to talk to its 64 year-old founder, choreographer and still active dancer, the venerable butoh master Ushio Amagatsu.
How is Sankai Juku’s butoh style distinct from that of other butoh performers?
I have explored butoh not just in Japan but also extensively in France and many other countries. Hence my style is influenced not by a specific culture, but by a shower of many cultures, by universality.
On average, Sankai Juku creates a new work every two or three years. Can you tell us about the process that leads up to the creation of a new work?
For inspiration, I read books, and watch things that catch my interests. But the important thing is to keep myself void, empty. If a glass is not empty, nothing can come in. So, I try to empty myself. Likewise, I never decide on the theme of a piece first. I take notes of impressions that occur in my mind and accumulate them. Before a creation, I examine if they all are necessary, and I drop the unnecessary ones. Then, with what remains, I prepare my creation.
Excerpts from 'Tobari'
So what ‘impressions’ inspired ‘Tobari’?
Tobari is a veil of fabric hung in space as a partition, and has since ancient times been used poetically to express the passage from day to night. So tobari is a moment we notice only when it has passed. What inspired ‘Tobari’ were the stars I saw in the night sky while touring different countries. They made me think about creating a piece using stars as the set, as the light of stars we see was actually light emitted a long, long time ago, like a tobari moment. I thought about how in this world we cling on to ‘the past’ as if it were ‘the present.
You are 64 years old, and yet you not only continue choreographing and travelling with Sankai Juku, you also continue to dance in its physically demanding works as well. Why is that?
I continue because I have a desire to see my creations. During a tour, I warm up thoroughly by stretching well. In daily life, I try to be relaxed, and receive everything naturally, including aging.
Having performed in so many places, do you feel audience reactions to your work vary from country to country?
Yes — Latin audiences react passionately, Northern audiences react deeply. I don’t know yet how Singaporean audiences will react to ‘Tobari’, so I look forward to it very much. I just haven’t had a chance to perform in Singapore for 22 years, and I am happy to be here.
Jo Tan is a professional freelancer whose cv includes wedding singing and selling fish. She actually likes salads and tofu, and doesn't eat chicken because she had two as pets (their names were Bubbles and Joveranter Cat.) However, she is not a hippie because she is bad at yoga and like most of Singapore, expects to slave her whole life to pay for her new HDB flat.