Program notes state that Ko Murobushi’s Quicksilver was first presented as a work-in-progress in November 2005 at the Kazuo-Ohno Festival. Since that showing Quicksilver has received strong reviews in Azabu, Tokyo and at the Biennale di Venezia Dance Festival in Venice. Performed as part of Dance Umbrella 2007 presentation at The Robin Howard Dance Theatre in London, 17 October Murobushi illustrated through spirit and form what is believed in the Butoh tradition originally initiated by Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno.
Entering the performance space, downstage right there is a pyramid of sand illuminated by overhead light; the performance space is black. As house lights descend, a figure is seen moving slowly around a chair upstage left. The path progresses in and out of a narrow patch of light that stretches across the stage. Ko Murobushi is dressed in a black suit jacket and trousers, bare feet and meshed fabric wrapped around his head and tied in the back; his hands and feet are painted silver.
Standing upstage left of the chair, Murobushi’s right hand lifts and the sound of sand through a pipe begins. Slashing gestures accompany more subdued movements of both hands rubbing together. Sitting in the chair Murobushi begins to shake his head from left to right. Grunting is heard as an overhead light comes on. Hand gestures continue accompanied by jerks in body with limbs caught in more angular shapes. Caught in a contorted sitting position after meticulously taking the fabric off his head the lights go out. Slow, introspective movement characterises this section though Murobushi is always looking directly at the audience. The suit indicates an urban affiliation with the mesh mask complicating the audience’s ability to identify with or emphasise with this faceless man. He is symbolic of a man, an imagined figure; a ghost and his gestures indicative of the emotional landscape he traverses.
Lights illuminate the pyramid of sand down stage right as Murobushi is revealed laying upstage left painted silver with only a patch of fabric covering his privates. Spasmodic jerks violent tremors occur in his body as Murobushi progresses downstage crawling and rolling. He appears to have great difficulty gaining control of his physical faculty. Contorted and visibly exhausted Murobushi arrives centre stage. A strong circle of light encases Murobushi in a miniature world of physical contemplation. He crawls counter clock wise then ends to sit cross legged murmuring to the audience. An introspective conversation takes place but not audibly clear for those at the back of the auditorium.
Murobushi movement progresses to a squat then with great labour he attempts to stand. Standing vertically Murobushi falls backward; the action and resultant sound of the body plummeting to the floor with no cushion or noticeable manoeuvre to brace impact are startling. A moment of stillness is followed by breath less ness and an image of death as Murobushi body seems to drain itself of breath. What metaphors are possible from this moment; from movement and imagery that has proceeded this? Murobushi draws into a fetal position then slowly rolls upstage to a shoulder stand with arms suitably placed in the air with the legs. Stillness again is followed by a progression into a position of repose. Through out this section Murobushi says a few words.
Murobushi arrives downstage right behind the pyramid of sand. The sound returns and is very loud resembling waves crashing against a shore. Murobushi slowly slides his hands into the sand and soon is scooping the sand into the air with arms, head and finally thrashing his whole body into the sand. Murobushi makes a transformation at this juncture. Transfigured, Murobushi leaves the sand and returns walking as a quadruped. Murobushi forcefully flipping, jumping and screaming, walking on all fours out and then back into the sand Murobushi becomes a wrenching, coiled beast. Several ferocious, full body flailing against the floor and then the lights go out.
At points in Quicksilver, Murobushi spoke words with only a few discernible; “war”, “cold” and “remember”. These few suggestions allow a naïve interpretation of this theatrical experience; a theatrical experience of such visceral magnitude. One reading is one of unrelenting frustration, suffering, reconciliation, transfiguration into a quadruped animas, an embodied performance of the cycle from life to death, rebirth then annihilation. Immersion, possession, trance, transfiguration are illustrative of this theatrical experience.
Butoh is an avant garde performance art first seen in post war Japan in 1959 in Kinjiki (Forbidden Colours) the work of Tatsumi Hijikata, with whom Murobushi studied in 1968. It has evolved into an international expression with several schools of performance which still share the same ethos. All explorations deliberately seek to subvert conventional notions of dance, particularly upright propensities of Westernised dance practices and dictates of Noh and Kabuki theatre. Hijikata devised Ankoku Butoh (later abbreviated to Butoh) or Dance of Darkness as a Japanese expression that allowed the body to speak for itself and not through a prescriptive, acquired movement language. Butoh has incorporated influences form German expressionist Mary Wigman and Harald Kreutzberg and Western writers and artists Genet, Antonin Artaud, de Sade, and surrealist, Dada. It has also been loosely translated to signify stomp dance or earth dance.
In Butoh the body speaks for itself through unconscious improvised movement; movement sourced from dormant genetic forces hidden from the consciousness. The dancer sources the liminal and intentionally seeks to not imitate but become the object of fascination, be it animate or inanimate; choosing poetic and surreal movement expressions to become what is imagined. Murobushi’s work saps you with its stark imagery; imagery that is created in the audience’s mind by what is thought to be seen in Murobushi’s movement and stillness. Quicksilver is intensely lived as it is intensely watched and experienced by both the dancer and the audience member. The dancer’s imagination is taxed and so too audience members who can but only stare at Murobushi’s honesty, commitment, and utter absorption into the fabric of this work.
THEA NERISSA BARNES