In the final evening of the Dhaipan Butoh Dance Collective’s 2019 festival, the night began with an intriguing video featuring Sheri Brown, the Collective’s art director, meeting up with a Chilean woman at a Buddhist statue in Santiago, Chile. The two women show their respect for the cultural masterpiece located in the center of the city, which is actually a Korean pagoda, as they perform a number of religious prayers and rituals, symbolizing the harmony they feel from the teachings and doctrines emanating from all this pagoda represents. At other times, the two women playfully pose for the camera next to, inside, or underneath the sculpture; again showing the meaningful place butoh has in their hearts and lives, and the audience can experience this on a global level through a unique and inviting soundtrack, in “Pagoda: A Dancing in Sacred Places Project.”
The first actual live performance of the night is a two-person show entitled, “The Shadow’s on the Pearl’s Skin,” which to me, feels very much like a continuation of the piece “Corporate,” that closed the previous night’s show in astounding fashion. This piece however, has a much more mellow and soothing feel to it, as both Joan Laage and Fernando Rocha glide expertly across the floor to similar, enchanting sounds and music, to what we heard the previous night. The costumes also resemble that of the previous night, with bare skin and or face paint symbolizing bodily harmony and an array of cultural experiences the dancers go through in attaining their sweet connections. A youthful flirtation seems to be going on as well, as the two dancers are frequently pulled apart, and then whisked back together on several occasions in much the same way as in “Corporate,” however this piece leaves us feeling much more calm, and at ease when all is said and done.
The middle performance is called “Portal 11345,” and is by far, the most colorful and visually stimulating piece, perhaps of the entire festival. This dance includes five different dancers (Mary Cutrera, Helen Thorsen, Amy Ward, Shoko Zama, and Robyn Bjornson), all wearing bright-colored costumes and working together, illuminating the concept of rebirth as a central theme, and once again, the intertwining of different cultures. One of the most captivating aspects of the show is the shadows on the white wall that are created by the lighting, and when the five women dance together, there almost appears to be 20 people on stage at once, creating a very busy, yet delightfully harmonious sensation. The choreography is brilliant once again as the dancers alternate between soaring or floating across the stage to being on the ground, wrestling violently with their own limitations, at times even brought down to their knees or backs. Very colorful and beautiful hats also served as compelling props and important objects in the piece, with each character having their own vain reactions to them, similarly to how the props were displayed in “Corporate.” But contrary to the prior evening’s finale, and just as Sunday night’s previous two pieces did, this piece, accompanied by its relaxing soundtrack, leaves the audience with a feeling of calm and peaceful tranquility in the end.
These rather soothing pieces definitely give way, in the final performance of the night - a piece that performers Sheri Brown and Alan Sutherland had worked on for over 4 years, entitled “Rivers of Industry” - to a much more frantic, chaotic, and emotional rendition of the human experience. This piece breathtakingly shows the struggle of the human animal and its psyche, as it runs up against numerous forces that lure, guide, propel, and oftentimes betray the seemingly blissful and dumbfounded, at times gullible and innocent, and at other times furious and frustrated participants/victims, into any number of heart-wrenching and soul-searching adventures and experiences. This is all brilliantly encompassed and acted out, by both Brown and Sutherland, whose desperately emotional renditions are a tour de force, and nothing short of unforgettable, as they bring this psychological and physiological rainbow to life right before our eyes! Sutherland is an older gentleman, probably in his mid seventies, whose face and body are adorned in white paint, something that brings out his facial features and expressions, as well as how time has battered him, wonderfully, in an intense and enticing fashion. Brown’s facial expressions are similarly impressive, as are her dance moves to the brilliant, original soundtrack created by Jane Mabrysmith. What she does with her much younger body is equally compelling, in sharp contrast to her older companion, and at times she seems to act out an entire five-year relationship worth of ups and downs in the span of 25 minutes.
The two characters embrace like lovers, and fight physically and emotionally as they struggle with what the outside influences of the world are pressing upon them.
Anyone who has lived “real life” can identify with the concepts of corruption, working into exhaustion, and being overwhelmed by the negative forces of a world of inhumane machines constantly and competitively trying to bowl us over like candlepins. But this piece’s magic is in how unmistakably human it is, and nobody could do a more masterful job of portraying all the colors of this spectrum than that of Brown and Sutherland. “Rivers of Industry” is truly a site to behold and a lesson for us all to take in and contemplate for years to come. It serves as the perfect finale to a superb three days of art, music, culture, and dance done in a way that only the Daipan Butoh Collective can.
-Erez Kats, at the Greenwood Taoist Center in Phinney, Seattle, WA on November 3, 2019.