Dance beyond the stage

The Japanese piece “ODORI-BA” will play for three days at the Southern Theater.

by Danylo Loutchko

Butoh, a contemporary Japanese performance art that features dancers completely covered in white body makeup, reaches for ideas below the surface.
Local butoh dance collective Nenkin Butoh Dan will perform its piece, “ODORI-BA — dancing places,” this Wednesday through Friday at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. The piece involves three performances occurring simultaneously in three different locations in the Southern Theater.
Nenkin Butoh Dan is a dance group of three local artists: Masanari Kawahara, Dustin Maxwell and Gadu. They have been creating work together as a collective since 2010. 
Gadu, who has been active in the Twin Cities as a dancer for more than 20 years and an active practitioner of butoh for 10 years, explains what their style of butoh attempts to achieve.
What kind of work does Nenkin Butoh Dan do?
We’ve done a lot of site-specific work. I’m trying to get out of the traditional theater setting because it’s limiting and I like the audience to be in a more intimate space and to be involved more in the performance. 
Our last performance we did in October at the Southern. We had the audience sit around on the stage, and we let them create the space for us. We asked people to light us using flashlights and create music for us. 
For this performance, I’m using a different perspective of stage. There are three performances happening at the same time, so the audience will be in different parts of the theater. The performance may be happening on the stairs, some on the main stage, some behind the arch, maybe in a little corner. People can focus on one performer or focus on the entire thing, including other people who are watching. It creates a very different perspective of the space. 
What does butoh dance entail on a deeper level?
The tricky thing about butoh is that there’s no real definition because each practitioner has their own aesthetics. 
The particular type of butoh that I practice is called “subbody butoh.” “Subbody” means “subconscious body.” In most of the regular dance forms, the choreographer creates movement and then puts it onto the dancers. In subbody butoh, it’s guiding people inward to help them find their own movement coming from within. 
When we are going to a very deep state, kind of like meditation, we find this subtle sensation of signals in our body, and as subbody butoh dancers we transform this sensation into movement. Sometimes we can’t describe it with words, so we create it into a movement.
What are subbody butoh performances like?
Because subbody butoh involves the subconscious body, the movement and the expression come from a much deeper place than just a physical one, which can affect how people are watching it and resonating with it. They can be affected in a much deeper place in their psyche. That’s why some people really hate butoh, because they just don’t want to face that. So much of the butoh expression can be very provocative or angry, sad or intense. But, as beings, we are all of these things.
The Western form of dance tends to focus on the one extreme of physical strength, but butoh expresses weakness. We resonate with weaknesses and shadows, that part that’s hidden from our daily lives and a taboo part of society; we’re not supposed to be sad. We’re always supposed to be happy. But it’s not like that in the real world.
Sometimes we’re angry. 
Sometimes we’re sad. Sometimes we are carrying trauma inside. But butoh can express all that through movement, so it can affect people in a very different way.
“ODORI-BA — dancing places”
Where The Southern Theater, 1420 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis
When 7:30 p.m. WednesdayFriday
Cost $18 students, $24 general admission, free for ARTshare members