By Nancy Goldner
It is not necessary to wait for companies with the exotic names of Dairakudikan or Sankai Juku to introduce one to the wonders of Butoh dance. At the Community Education Center last night, one Maureen Fleming did the job splendidly.
Butoh is an avant-garde Japanese dance form that combines traditional Japanese theater forms, with their emphasis on meditative, flowing movement: the "silent cry" of German expressionist art; and a sensibility that could have arisen only out of the experience of Hiroshima. It is an art that is beautiful and horrifying at the same time.
Fleming is an American born in Japan, who is currently an artist in residence at an experimental theater in New York called LaMama. She has studied with Japanese artists, including Kazuo Ohno, the guru of Butoh. Her studies with Ohno notwithstanding, it is a remarkable experience to behold an American so in tune with an art form that is quintessentially foreign.
Fleming performed a solo called Water on the Moon. Divided into four sections, it is a mere 35 minutes long but it seems as complete as a full evening's work.
It begins with a figure encased in filmy white material, slowly moving to the pounding of drums. The figure moves against wind and is bathed in a fiery red light. The fascination of the sequence is that, for all the time one has to scrutinize the figure, it's impossible to figure out what it is. Its contours keep changing, and so does its story. Is it a dinosaur? A tree? A fetus? Are we witnessing birth? Or immolation?
In the second section, Fleming, her body naked, lies in a reflective pool of water. As she moves, she seems split in two: above and below water. The top half of her moves seamlessly; the bottom half of her, reflected in the water, trembles and shimmers. Slowly - always slowly, this Butoh dance - she turns toward us. A gnarled twig protrudes from her stomach. Blood trickles from the wound down her leg. Slowly again, she crouches in the water and folds and unfolds her body. Her face wears a mask-like grin that is both ecstatic and idiotic. She bends over backwards and dies.
We then see this creature encased again in diaphanous material, like an embryo. As in the first section, she finally slides out of the drapery to reveal her true figure. But this revelation does nothing to dilute the mysteriousness of her identity in the shroud.
The preceding sections are set to music by Japanese composers. The last part is to Louis Armstrong. Rain falls on the pool of water. Fleming, in a sort of tramp costume, splashes and sloshes through the water while her mouth is in a signature silent scream. She's not singin' in the rain.
This dance of poetic wizardry repeats tonight at 8. Beginning May 29. Fleming will teach a five-day workshop at the Community Education Center based on Butoh techniques.