At some point she must have started to move. The lights, first shining on a hot red sun hanging at the back of the stage, take their time to reveal a figure - a woman wearing a long black dress from another time period, her hair pulled up in a polished bun. She is standing very still - for a very long time. There is a certain elegance and poise to her stillness. One would think that everything is just fine in this world, though the vibrating, abrasive soundscape suggests otherwise. It is a bold juxtaposition and we are transfixed.
At long last, the light hits her face differently and it becomes clear that something must have changed, she must have moved. Her moving with such nuance and control is eventually (but suddenly) contrasted with a sharp change in her level. Technically, she is probably merely bending her knees, but to us, the change is monumental. We are on the edge of our seats.
In ELSEWHERE, performed by Vangeline and composer, Yuka C. Honda, we never know what will happen next.
Vangeline Theater – an anomaly in Butoh world
Vangeline is a teacher, dancer and choreographer specializing in Butoh, the Japanese postwar avant-garde movement form. A French woman practicing Butoh, a typically male dominated field, Vangeline is a rarity who has even founded the New York Butoh Institute. Yuka C. Honda is a musician, producer, composer and performer originally from Tokyo. Honda has collaborated with the likes of Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon and is co-founder of the band, Cibo Matto. It’s no surprise that these incredibly skilled, innovative artists collaborate on a piece that celebrates the life of another courageous woman, Japanese performer Omoto Tannaker (1842-1916). The program states that “ELSEWHERE is a story of migration and cultural encounters and that with this piece they explore their roots while investigating the idea of shared space in performance”.
Honda sits at a table just off the left side of the stage. Though we can barely see her by the light of her laptop and keyboard set-up, there is an elegance in her own shifts of movement as she orchestrates the spectacular score. This improvised composition ranges from foreboding to frightening, to deafening, and then explodes into the cathartic before settling into a kind of reverie. The score serves as a powerful duet partner, beautifully demonstrating music as inner life. Butoh, as translated, means “dance of darkness”. Vangeline says “It is the realm of the hidden, of the subconscious, of things we usually don’t dare look at in ourselves and in others. Butoh reveals our deep humanity.” Throughout the piece, the soundscape brings the darkness to the surface and foreshadows what is to come.
‘What is to come’ is a huge contrast to the opening image of stillness. As the piece evolves, the movement becomes more expressive - stylized and emotional. The word emotional might be a gross understatement. It is a transformation. At the climax of the piece, the movement is much more animalistic - Vangeline shakes and flogs herself as her perfect bun comes loose and hair pins go flying! Unbridled and grotesque, it seems a far far cry from the opening image physically, but we know that the darkness has been there all along.
Highly recommended for dance and theatre lovers who enjoy innovative collaborations and work that challenges their own expectations.
Interested in Butoh? Check out the New York Butoh Festival October 12-23, 2018 curated by Vangeline Theater.
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Vangeline Theater
Learn more about dance by seeing dance through dancers eyes in the Picture This Post series, “Choreographers’ Eyes - Dancers Explain Dance”. Watch this video preview of the story here—
Allison Plamondon is a choreographer, director, teacher and performer originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Choreography highlights include the Oscar-winning short film, Curfew , Goblin Market at 59E59 Theaters and direction/choreography/conception for The Tchaikovsky Vignettes at HB Studio. An avid teacher, Allison has taught at Broadway Dance Center, Abrons Arts Center and is currently on the faculty at Tom Todoroff Acting Conservatory. Performance highlights include Tap City-the Main Event, Trying at Cape May Stage and performing with Phish at Madison Square Garden. Directors Lab West ‘17, Uta Hagen Teacher Training, NYFA immigrant artist fellow, SDCF Observership with Kathleen Marshall (City Center Encores).
Learn more at the Allison Plamondon website.
Read more about Allison Plamondon in this Picture this Post feature story - "Choreographer Allison Plamondon on Merce Cunningham".