After somehow getting turned around and completely lost in the Tenderloin for the quarter of an hour, I made it in time to the Asian Art Museum for my first experience with Butoh dance last night. The Trace of Purple Sadness was presented by CAVE, a Brooklyn based art collective and featured a performance by Ximena Garnica, with video projections and installation designed by Shige Moriya.
Draped from criss-crossing cables attached to the thick columns in Samsung Hall were a number of long transparent scrims cut in banner-like strips which formed a kind of aery tent over the platform in the center of the room. During the performance, Shige Moriya (using an Apple laptop with the bars of the Peace Sign taped over the glowing logo) projected successive patterns which multiplied and overlaid one another, each new texture erasing the last like new rain on dry cement.
Garnica began with her body wrapped into a tight ball, until finally her feet dug into the thin layer of chalk on the stage, propelling herself in a slow circle. Leaning forward into an uncomfortable looking position balanced on her shoulders, her tensed arms began to repeat several compulsive gestures, hands meeting and separating as though stretching out a piece of taffy, and then obsessively knocking on the stage or upon the air. After stretching both legs toward the ceiling and holding for an ungodly amount of time, the performance accelerated as she worked her body into a standing position, her hair enveloping her head like a burial shroud. When later she cast a long searching gaze upon the audience, the effect was startling. What had preceded it seemed more some kind of shamanic trance than an act of will. Still later she leapt from the stage, scattering clouds of chalk dust as she shook in place before circling the room in a dance of alternately jarring and graceful steps.
Punctuating the dance was music provided by Tatsuya Nakatani, an ambient arrangement of subtle chimes, strings that screeched loudly like rusted medal, and reverberating drums intermingled with the occasional word or prolonged growl. The video, music and dance reached a crescendo at the end: it was like the seasons changing in quick succession to match the mood of the dance. I’m not sure how representative CAVE’s performance was of Butoh (if there is indeed any kind of “traditional” way to do it) but I enjoyed it immensely. A 45 minute running time was, I think, just right, although quite a few people gave up early in the performance. There were no easy-to-read expressions or expected gestures, just a rapid and varied exploration of the body as a vehicle of art.