Every so often, we come to moments in our lives when everything just stops. This is a time for reflection – on everything we are, everything we have been, and everything we still want to be. In the wake of Covid-19, and this devastating pandemic that we have all been thrust into, whether we were ready, willing, or not at all; we have all been tasked to, and faced with a tremendous duty, perhaps even a calling. This task has been to look extremely deeply within ourselves, and somehow figure out, or extract if you will, exactly what means the absolute most to us on this planet. Who are we? Who is our family? Who or what can we absolutely NOT live without? Through emotional pain, physical pain, fatigue, heartbreak, loss of family, friends, or possessions – we have been forced to dig deeper than we ever have before within our bodies, minds, and souls in order to discover and locate our truest selves.
FEM-Alchemy is just such an endeavor. The Seattle DAIPANbutoh Collective is giving us the performance of a lifetime in the Seattle Butoh Festival 2021. Through Friday night’s three incredibly and indelibly, staunch and stoic performances by Allysia Scott Zollinger, Robyn Bjornsen, and Sheri Brown, we truly start to understand and experience just what it means to be transformed over the course of a lifetime. Spanning nearly a century, from infancy to childhood, adolescence to adulthood and ultimately to old age, these women re-enact the essence of what it means to live a full, rich, and complete life. Tendered with all the innocent joys and simplicities of youth, nature, love and dreams, which we all aspire to; nevertheless fraught with the chaotic, frantic, and often desperate moments of fear and despair that each of us must endure to achieve this goal - a concept we refer to as existence, or survival.
Each dancer demonstrates this in their own, highly unique and personal style of expression that evokes and brings to life the story of their ancestors. In Scott Zollynger’s case, she begins in a cage, or a cocoon if you will, surrounded by driftwood, antlers, and animal carcasses, yet is adorned in the tattered robe of an earthly goddess, or shaman, as she deftly expresses the rigors and joys of motherhood in murmur. Remaining close to the ground, she portrays living close to the earth, and existing permanently with mother nature, nurturing her spirit and her young simultaneously, until finally she comes full circle, and returns to the sacred land, and cocoon which was her birthplace. Accompanied by a trio of amazing musicians, the sonic treasures of nature and her heart are evoked through cymbals, bells, beautiful chanting, a keyboard, and a bass flute, which combine to form an ethereal soundtrack to this riveting journey, one that is captivating and breathtaking to watch and listen to.
In the ensuing performance, Robyn Bjornsen also has an enriching story to tell - this one of her grandmother’s life. Images of leaves, potatoes, growing up on a farm, and living the “simple life” are some of the tools and props Bjornsen uses to teleport our senses and spirits into a world consisting mostly of innocence, bliss, and harmony. This is easily the happiest piece of the three, as the beautiful, multi-colored bubbles attest to early in the performance. From here, we see glimpses of childhood, of a child frolicking in the woods using leaves as her toys and the earth itself as her sandbox. The child does ultimately give way to the adult, but as to the mysteries of wisdom and delight this universal woman’s heart conveys, we can only turn to the solo debut of this magnificent performer to illuminate and demonstrate for us.
Finally, as is so often the case, and what has become the creative director of this unbelievable dance troupe’s credo, stamp, and insignia, Sheri Brown puts the finishing touches on this intensely surreal and unbelievable carnival by bringing fire to ice, sunshine to shade, deciduous forest to desolate tundra, and tumultuous typhoons to breezy summer afternoons. She is truly a sorceress, a soothe-sayer, and a mystic all at once, while at the same time so very mortal and human, just like you and I. We rejoice as we see the light in her eyes pointing to the skies; we shudder as we see her hopes start to dim and fade, despite the muscular ferocity of her balanced stance; we crumble as she passes through an unspeakable vortex of pain, fear, and dizzying confusion & stress (so brilliantly piercing through our eardrums courtesy of the gong wizardry of Stephanie Wood, always seamlessly in step with the torment and triumph of this piece)! Finally we sprout wings, we mature, we age, we grow wise, but ultimately we wither and die in Ms. Brown’s very arms because she has shown us the way, the pathway back home. Original poetry & spoken-word by her lifetime dance partner, Alan Sutherland, as well as recorded sensations accompany the master performer, as Red Wolfe Dragonfly is a powerhouse that has torn us all to shreds, and left us the better for it, because we have been free to choose life every step of the way, and used our own innocence to unlock the meaning and the truth of our heavenly existence. Don’t miss it.
Quixotic Entertainment (www.quixoticentertainment.net)
AFTER DEATH, A CALM, BENEATH THE CHAOS
The Seattle Daipan Butoh Festival 2021 concluded on Sunday night at the Yaw Theater in Georgetown with a handful of smiles, several deep breaths, and more than a few loving embraces, as the women of this powerful and transformative dance troupe bid their final farewells, and paid their richly deserved homages to one of the stalwarts of Butoh dancing over the last half century, Alan Mark Sutherland, who passed away sadly due to cancer last Friday night at the relatively young age of 67. Sutherland had his roots in New York City, and had formed a lifelong friendship and professional partnership with the current Collective’s creative director, Sheri Brown, among many others whose lives he touched deeply and profoundly. Ms. Brown introduced each night of the festival with memories, jokes, poetry, and amusing anecdotes from their many years spent together both on stage as dancers/performers, on the streets as performers/friends, and also while traveling the world doing much of the same. Brown credits Sutherland as having been her mentor, and inspiration over the course of their thirty plus year collaboration.
Emotions were clearly running high as Joan Laage, who also goes by the name of Kogut Butoh, another polished butoh dancing veteran of multiple decades, opened Saturday night’s show with a brilliant solo performance, elegantly woven into the fabric of this evening’s loss, yet still transcending its sadness to deliver a whimsical tribute to the woman’s body and menstrual cycle in Rivers Running Red.
That dramatic and gripping performance set the stage for the much lighter-hearted second piece of the night - a wonderful creation by fellow Butoh Collective member and contributor, Dhyana Garcia. The delightful piece called Sakti: Exquisite Complexity, begins with three “angels” if you will, displaying the inverted triangle, a symbol for the feminine energy in yoga, as well as a type of life force itself, bringing about creativity and strength in the human soul. This abstract piece is uniquely joyful, as the lead dancer (Ms. Garcia herself) wears an unbelievable headpiece, as she moves somewhat clumsily at times, and at other times beautifully in her apparent blindness; but is guided, inspired, and wonderfully enlightened, not only by the scintillating soundtrack consisting primarily of mystical nature sounds, (much like in Laage’s dance), but also by her three guiding angels, whenever she stumbles. The result produces a sensual artistic extravaganza that has to be seen to be believed.
Saturday night was fittingly capped off by a stunning creation from another Butoh Collective mainstay, Kaoro Okumura. A 91 year-old Japanese woman sings to life an extraordinary and unforgettable dreamlike tale, coming directly from Minamata, a situation in which two worlds are colliding on two different fronts. A cross between the haunting tale of two sisters who both fall in love with the same man while simultaneously representing the essence of pine trees, interspersed with tragic imagery inspired by the sorrows of WWII’s nuclear disaster, combine to create a hauntingly dramatic, yet perfectly elegant performance by Okumura and Aoi Lee. AWAHI - World of Woe, The Pure Land is something that will transport your mind far away from the grips of normality, and deep into the illusory quality of your own imagination.
On Sunday evening, the Yaw Theater stage was graced by a unique and trailblazing visitor from New York City known simply as Vangeline, founder of the Vangeline Theater/New York Butoh Institute. The former choreography artist fellow (2018 for Elsewhere) and author of Butoh: Cradling Empty Space, put on a visually stunning and sonically meditative masterpiece called Eternity 123, tracing the path of women’s liberation, particularly via the vaudeville and cabaret scenes in Tokyo in the 1970’s and 80’s and New York in the 1990’s, where she once worked. Oftentimes dancing with her entire theater company back home, on this night, Vangeline flew solo in Seattle, captivating the audience with both silence and movement. In a multi-layered and multi-faceted creation, Vangeline’s performance is nothing short of flawless.
Finally, the entire festival reaches its conclusion, with the awe-inspiring brilliance of Helen Thorsen’s Pearl. Ivory Smith’s soundtrack is indeed something to behold, as is the absolute brilliance of all three women (Thorsen, Mary Cutrera & Amy Ward), contorting their bodies in the most extreme postures, all the while expounding the story of a poem about a sort of supernatural wind cave from James Wright’s “The Jewel.” The facial expressions, bodily movements, costumes, and sound effects alike make this an excrutiatingly bizarre, yet thunderously intriguing experience never to be forgotten. Inspired once again by Kaoru Okumura, this enigmatic performance leaves everyone stunned and submissive to the creative brilliance and genius that can only be discovered at the Seattle Daipan Butoh Collective’s annual festival. AMS would most certainly be proud of this fantastic and fabulous group of female dancers. As Sheri Brown would surely say, “Rest in peace, and until we meet again, dear Alan.”