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Sankai Juku

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, these are the fairest of them all - "Kagemi: Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors"

by Becca Hirschman

November 14, 2006 – Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, California

Butoh is more than dance; it incorporates theater and a feeling of meditation, which transforms one from being a passive audience member to a spiritually active one. Seeing Sankai Juku’s “Kagemi: Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors” on Tuesday night, I truly felt transformed in both body and spirit. Entering Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Forum, my date and I were awestruck by the softly lit, life-size white lilies floating effortlessly onstage above a creamy white platform. In fact, I grew quite giddy trying to count them before the show, finally settling on a number roughly in the range of several dozen or more-than-50-less-than-80. At the same time, faint music trickled in through the speakers and the glow from the flowers’ outlines created a calming pattern of dark circles on stage, transporting me to a cream-colored Japanese-influenced version of Disney’s “Fantasia.” All this, and the official performance hadn’t even started yet!

Sankai Juku’s well-deserved return to the Bay Area (it’s been 5 years) was nothing short of magical. The seven clay-covered dancers included Ushio Amagatsu (the company’s founder and artistic director), Semimaru, Sho Takeuchi, Akihito Ichihara, Taiyo Tochiaki, Ichiro Hasegawa, and Dai Matsuoka. Beginning with a single dancer, the work ebbed and flowed like a school of fish on a journey, venturing toward a very self-satisfying yet personally enriching and transitional climax. What struck me most was the care and dedication each performer committed to and how they moved with the music and each other: lifting an arm, tilting their heads, finding a driving rhythm, walking purposefully backwards and forwards. The intricacies that we don’t normally see or pay attention to came alive in this performance, and were enhanced even more by the canopy of lilies (which were lifted high up yet not out of sight early on in the performance), Satoru Suzuki’s warm golden lighting, Masayo Iizuka’s variations-of-white “costume realization,” and an original and varied score by Takashi Kako and Yoichiro Yoshikawa.

The company received a well-deserved standing ovation from the sold-out crowd, and San Francisco Performances and Yerba Buena should be commended for bringing such a high quality company back to San Francisco. Hopefully Sankai Juku can return for a longer run next time, providing more people the opportunity to share in their wonderfully rich and introspective style.

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