Japanese Butoh is called dance, but to me it is more like an immersive visual art form: Strong images come out of still tableaus made of human forms. Rhythm is not the impetus for this movement, but rather the source comes from some inner impulse; some small seed of energy that grows into an outward expression that can be something very subtle, or something more grotesque, like a branchlike twisting of limbs and anguished facial expressions. The “dancers” move slowly, tentatively, finding a direction and a phrasing from their inner landscapes. It’s a movement you tend to feel more than watch. The unseen energy currents are as vital as the choreographed movement on the stage.
Los Angeles has long been blessed with performances of this unique form of dance from Japanese choreographer Oguri and his collaborator Roxanne Steinberg. This week at REDCAT, they were joined by Irish artists Morleigh Steinberg and her husband, The Edge (yes, THAT Edge of U2) as the Arcane Collective. Their collaborative work, choreographed by Morleigh Steinberg, Oguri and Liz Roche, is inspired by the work of renowned Irish painter Louis Le Brocquy, who passed away a month ago.
Steinberg, who makes her home in both L.A. and Ireland with her rock star husband, was literally moved to create dance when viewing the artist’s gallery works, studying not only “the content and context of the paintings, but also the kinetic energy of how he painted and how he painted time.”
The piece opens with Oguri emerging from black into a single bright light. This nearly naked man stands silent, as his hand moves slightly and seems to become enlarged as it reaches forward. It almost looks like a video effect, but it’s not. The amount of energy in a simple movement is propelled by a deep-feeling, moving body. Then a single plastic sheet shrouds a naked woman whose breath creates a pulse within the plastic’s movement. Soon another woman appears on a canvas path that traverses in an animalistic crouched form, her long hair hiding any facial involvement, as she gathers the cloth to her. (A definite (and for me rare) nod to the costume designer, Mariad Whisker, who has created a compact yet flowing smock, which beautifully echoes the overall use of layered cloth.)
The set, as designed by Oguri and Moses Hacman, has the stage engulfed in white fabric walls, with a single hanging light bulb in the center. Such simple staging expresses the muted, almost cubist images of Le Borcquy’s abstract paintings. The textures of Le Borcquy's paintings appear as layers—which the stage design interprets through the use of reams of cloth. The actual people in Borcquy's portraits don’t have a lot of movement in them, appearing reclining or posed; it is more his overall canvas that "moves." As a reflection of this, the bodies on stage aren’t always energetic nor reenacting the forms, but rather inhabiting this engulfing visual space with humanity.
The cast resembles a wandering band of souls on a journey through some unknown space; sometimes there are suggested narratives and characters. The cloth motif continues throughout the piece, and at one point the muted color scheme is contrasted with three characters dressed (and undressed) in black, who appear in a conflicted fight scene. A huge black flag is waved over the dancers and the audience.
Not all images that emerge are poignant: At moments you can sense the intensity, and at other times it goes dim.
The soundscape created by The Edge and Paul Chavez also creates a space, not for listening, but for living within. Generally ambient, at times it finds a rhythm, but generally it is ruled by a drone of guitar sounds that create a myriad of melodies that resemble anything from brass to wood to air instruments.
"Cold Dream Colour" is a perfect title for this dark, deep world. When it ends, your body feels a release that makes you want to reaffirm your life.