A Vessel of Ruins with Taketeru Kudo

August 21, 2013 at 7:53 pm

CanAsian International Dance Festival

Presents A Vessel of Ruins with Taketeru Kudo

Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto

May 3 and 4, 2013


by David Fujino
July 2013

Especially in this part of the world, an audience’s knowledge about butoh dance is still very limited.

Consider this: when dance audiences talk about butoh, Sankaijuku is the first name that often springs to their lips — further, audiences frequently equate the look of butoh with Sankaijuku’s devastated post-apocalyptic world in which ashen male bodies famously turned, like slow moving frozen statues, to the strains of Miles Davis playing All Blues.

But on this evening of May 4th, Taketeru Kudo shared with us a contrasting vision of what butoh is — and is about — in his solo dance titled A Vessel of Ruins, which began at centre stage as an unmoving bundle that slowly started to stir until hands and outstretched legs poked out to eventually reveal a man, belly down, with white startled eyes, gradually crawling on all fours into the space in front of him, his face and torso painted black and wearing a loincloth, as he emerged as a traumatized human animal living on the fringes of a burnt-out society. The spare sound design consisted of deliberately paced deep drones that were resonantly industrial and electronic.

At the 45 minute mark, in a dramatic change of pace, the dancer abruptly turned a bright spotlight’s glare into and away from the audience’s eyes, and exited the stage. In the meantime, as long white ropes were dropping down onto the bare black stage, the entire definition and dynamic of a dance had suddenly changed. For we had a dance in progress, but no longer a dancer. We had a black stage and long swinging white ropes which, together, made a design — even call it a drawing, or call it an abstract black and white painting — to look at.

This struck me as a very modern moment as we stared into the empty stage.

Elsewhere, Kudo’s striking onstage presence and range of facial and body expressions were engagingly specific and so very human (almost Shakespearean) in their scope. The butoh students among us likely spotted the influence of butoh masters like Hijikata here, or the influence of Ohno there, or the influence of Sankaijuku with whom Kudo danced with, here, but most of us were surely taken aback by Kudo’s performance that so artfully and convincingly depicted the severe traumas of modern life.

And at the point in the dance when Kudo had transformed from a loin-clothed primitive into a clothed priest-like figure whose face and arms had metamorphosed to pure gold, Venetian masks came to mind, as did ancient ceremonial masks of various and ancient global cultures.

This qualified as a true standout moment.

Another standout moment was Kudo’s bare-chested running across the stage and into the free-floating copper sheets hanging from the rafters. Such crashing thunder was like a cymbal crash for the dancer and the audience, a satisfying release from the more strictly controlled and deliberate movements that had preceded.

But as the final lights faded to black, Kudo was noticed standing motionless and dispassionate in front of the central copper sheet as if to say, all of this is made up, this is art.

On this May 4th evening, Kudo had both mystified and moved the audience — after all, it was butoh, it was about humankind, ever searching for meaning, in a state of shock, after the atom bomb dropped.