Butoh OUT! review (Abbotsford Convent, Melbourne)

I’ve never seen a Butoh performance, so I had no idea of didn’t know what to expect of Butoh Out!. I’m not sure that I’m a lot clearer now, or what I saw at Friday’s (May 3) show is different to other performances in its season.

Butoh is, says Wilipedia, “a form of Japanese dance theatre that encompasses a diverse range of activities, techniques and motivations for dance, performance, or movement”. It goes on to say that it is difficult to define: “Common features of the art form include playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, (and) extreme or absurd environments”.

What I saw from the Butoh OUT! team, headed up by Yumi Umiumare and Takashi Takiguchi is a deliberately chaotic up mix of dance and performance from a diverse bunch of people, chosen as much for their variety of looks/ abilities/ expressions, as their experience in this form of art (partly due to incorporating all-abilities theatre group WEAVE Movement).

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Butoh Out! feels like Samuel Beckett meets Beyoncé via Eraserhead. Everything is designed to be discomforting while funny and busy. It has that air of studied causalness that only hours of practice can bring, where every movement is considered and deliberate, no matter how small or insignificant.

Much of the time there are multiple different movements in adjacent spaces as if some deity wound up all his clockwork toys and let them all wear themselves out in frenzied movement. Add some wheelchair- bound participants, who mostly get the speaking roles, and you have a whirling, noisy, visually exciting melange of colliding ideas.

Highlights include one of the better Welcomes to Country I’ve seen; a bloodied wounded man slowly writhing his way across the floor over an extended period; and a robotic be-suited person walking back and forth with mechanical accuracy, only to randomly break for hysterical laughter. There is also a terrific little section on the way we unconsciously speak to people with disability – repeating confusing instructions increasingly louder and with greater frustration.

The show is broken into several sections and ends with a big orgiastic dance party. In between, we traverse through Alice in Wonderland (cheekily played by Willow J Conway and Zya Kane) and among other things, see a terrific short piece from producer Takiguchi incorporating tight mirrored dancing.

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A number of the cast are embedded in the audience and come out during the show to make a point, as does the announcer who ends the show. She appears about halfway through in a daze to ask “what is this? Is this Butoh?”, as she tries to awkwardly imitate what the other dancers are doing, only to become one with the ensemble as they move into the next section.

Butoh OUT! is a visually exciting and interesting performance designed to keep you on the edge of your seat: live dangerously!

Butoh OUT! is at the Abbotsford Convent until May 12

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