By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
“I was born by the sea,” recalls Ushiro Amagatsu, leader and choreographer of the butoh ensemble Sankai Juku, when asked about his formative experiences. “The boundary between land and sea, shoreline, a changing color from dawn to a blue sky, on the contrary, from red sunset to blue that is further darkened deeper, and the repetition of them that we may call ‘eternity’. . .these impressions still dwell upon my mind.”
Sankai Juku comes to the Meany Hall For The Performing Arts in early October, presenting the North American premiere of a piece called “Umusuna: Memories Before History.” “Umusuna,” explains Amagatsu, is an ancient Japanese word that means a place of one’s birth. When I apply this word to the whole [of humanity], the earth itself becomes Umusuna. I believe that the relationship between the place of birth and people is always deeply affected by a certain natural element, and I don’t think this relationship doesn’t change at present, and in the future as well, as it didn’t change in the past. This is my motif…I present nature with its four compositions: land, water, fire, and wind.”
Butoh is a style of Japanese dance and performance which arose after World War II and embraces the anger, pain, and absurdity of that war, along with the shame of Japan’s defeat. It is historically difficult to pin down, but white full-body make up is common, along with slow movements, and extreme, sometimes dangerous, performing environments. Sankai Juku actually lost a dancer in Seattle—Yoshiuki Takada, who fell to his death in 1985, performing a piece that required him and other dancers to dangle from a building.
Asked to explain butoh, Amagatsu calls it “A dialogue with gravity. That is not repulsion to gravity, but is more close to conformity with gravity. Therefore, a little careful way of corresponding with gravity is necessary. In this view, some people may say our dance is slow-motion, but it’s not. It is a result of careful correspondence with gravity.”
“For me,” Amagatsu continues, “the thing more important is my concentration for the piece to be presented, rather than expecting some [artistic] reputations. I think that the impressions of audiences can vary from one another.
“Since the first European tour in 1980, I have been subject to other cultures than my native one.
Then I learned that each culture is different and the differences make a culture, and that there is something common, beyond the difference of cultures, which can be called universality. So,
from the reason that many cultures allow me to notice something common exists, I can say I have influences. Not by a specific culture, but by the shower of many cultures.” Asked about his plans for the future, Amagatsu reflects: “My curiosity and interests on how people stand, walk, and move never run out. The process of [how] people come to stand is common beyond cultures or human races. And people will repeat it for over millions years from now on, too. The relationship of people and nature (environment) there, too, are interesting for me.” (end)
Sankai Juku presents “Umusuna: Memories Before History” October 1st through October 3rd at the Meany Hall For The Performing Arts.