Sunday, October 30, 2011

Butoh and the noh play 'Ohara Goko'

In describing her vision of our performance 'Offering: Traveling into a Dream', butoh dancer Shinjo described an elderly woman bitter because she has nothing to offer visitors to her tiny cottage. By sheer coincidence, Shinjo's vision for the performance was very similar to the noh play I'd been translating all week, 'Ohara Goko'. In the play, based on the final chapter (the Initiates Chapter) of the Heike Monogatari, the retired Emperor visits the former Empress. Once the mother to the Emperor, she has seen her clan defeated, her family first decimated then annihilated, her brothers hunted down and executed, and she has witnessed the suicide by drowning of her mother and her seven year old son. After her suicide attempt is thwarted, she becomes a nun and moves to an extremely small hermitage in the hills north of Kyoto. Now dressed in the severe habit of a nun, she tells the visiting retired Emperor the story of her life. The play is filled with a rare poignance, as was 'Offering'.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Offering: Butoh in a Recycled Tea House

In early October, I was invited to provide musical accompaniment for a butoh performance in downtown Seattle. The performance space was to be inside a hand-crafted teashop, designed by Vashon Island-based architect Christopher Ezzell of eworkshop and made of 2-liter plastic bottles (twice reused) and other repurposed and recycled materials. To celebrate the final days of the Tea House before it was taken down, I was to join bamboo flutist Larry Lawson in accompanying butoh dancer Shinjo. For my part, I brought to the performance a music that reflected various aspects of the tea house itself: crystal clarity, distance, recycled materials, ritual and ancient traditions.

The Tea House was constructed inside ArtXchange Gallery near Pioneer Square (downtown Seattle), and tea demonstrations were offered throughout the day October 6 through 22. Surrounded by the tea ceremony-inspired cast sculpture, wall-hung steel canvases, and installations of artist Miya Ando, the performance mirrored the fragility of the spirit within the tea house, but also the deep strength of the heart and longevity of the offering inherent in the tea ceremony, as well as its simplicity.