November 2009, New York City
We meet in the studio because this is one of those rare places- in which we can dis-assemble and re-assemble meaning and still come out on the inside of understanding. The task at hand, the question we are asking is how are Butoh and Action Theater alike? What are the goals? What are the differences between them that create such distinct forms? Do they even speak to each other improvisationally?
During our two-week residency we practiced mostly open improvisations, and then focused on smaller and more discrete variations depending on what we noticed during each particular round. For significant sections we slowed way down and stayed in a frame or a condition or a physicality for a long long time and this revealed that time is made not of minutes but of slight shifts in mood that under the microscope of sustained duration become all-encompassing worlds, not so easy to leave as in previous practices. During this residency I would say that we became less and less like butterflies and much more like waves, or super-persistent forms of climbing ivy.
There was the revelatory pathway we discovered, the one that showed that when the physicality was very very clear and committed, when it actually began to narrate a “story” (wordlessly) – (or even when it didn’t – when it lived in a more abstract realm) when we did bring language in, and the language had the tone and tension and vibration of the physical inside of it – then the text was significantly more intricate, deep, metaphoric and relevant. Even if it was just one word – it had the momentum of the physical to carry it into much meatier layers of meaning. As in the time I climbed up Shinichi’s back, up to a shoulder perch, and when language came it was about power, about the Ruler who was beholden to another ruler, a conscience or the devil, the small voice in his ear, the shadow of doubt that rides him. Image and voice and both bodies all combined in a delicate (and literal) balance, a strange and compelling stance.
At the end, I think we agreed that Butoh and Action Theater aim in the same direction – to make the inside of experience, sensate living experience, visible. To inhabit essences of the world, the phenomenons of nature (of which humans are but one part), and reveal them in relational and unexpected ways, translated through our bodies and psyches. The degree of success in this realm can be endlessly argued over, strived for, reached for, failed, experienced, or not. Neither Butoh or Action Theater prescribe motion or feeling, but they both beckon us into the places of being that eclipse the mundane, the place of being fully embodied in a present moment. We did find ourselves “transported” as the weeks unfurled, surprised and delighted and opened into our own and each others unknowns.