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Sankai juku

Ushio Amagatsu

OCT. 12.13.14, 2006
Théâtre Maisonneuve de la Place des Arts

“One of the most original and startling dance theater groups to be seen.” (The New York Times, USA)

pening the Danse Danse season is Sankai Juku, one of the most in-demand companies in the world. The famous troupe will follow up memorable Montreal performances in 1987 (Jomon Sho) and 1990 (Unetsu) with Kagemi, a work by founder and artistic director Ushio Amagatsu. From its 2000 premiere at Paris’s Théâtre de la Ville, Kagemi, or Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors, has enchanted the world with its unforgettable imagery.

“What fascinates isn’t the white body makeup, the shaved heads, or even the slow-motion dance between tension and release; it is Amagatsu’s indescribable aesthetic, which employs visual transformations and lighting effects that outdo the best visual artists.” (Le Monde, France)

In a forest of giant, immaculate lotus leaves, creatures that are half-man, half-spirit act out a strange ritual. The seven dancers including Amagatsu, in turn angels and demons, creatures of light and darkness, male and female, celebrate the cycle of life in its slow and relentless transformation. Over seven scenes, Kagemi treats audiences to a dazzling meditation.

“Sophisticated beauty… Sankai Juku creates its unique art form that transcends the times.” (Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Japan)

Ushio Amagatsu
Ushio Amagatsu was born in 1949 and studied classical and modern dance before turning toward butoh. A contemporary dance form originating in Japan in the ‘60s, butoh seeks to reinvent beauty in the wake of the cataclysms of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Amagatsu, a second-generation butoh artist, aims for a clearer, more transparent version. Butoh, according to him, goes beyond formal technique or academic style, instead articulating the body’s language to seek out commonality and a universal serenity in the core of all creatures, even by means of cruelty or brutality. He expresses his artistic approach and the results of his intensive personal exploration in Dialogue with Gravity, published by Actes Sud in 2001:

“I like to think that dance begins in the process that precedes birth, and even earlier, in the repetition of an evolution that took hundreds of millions of years. You can’t sit up, stand up or move without involving gravity, without entering into an exchange with it. This is even truer for dance, which becomes a dialogue with gravity.”

Aside from work with his company, Amagatsu choreographed Fifth, a piece for five dancers presented in Tokyo in 1988. He also directed a production of Bluebeard’s Castle (Béla Bartók) at the Tokyo International Forum in 1997 as well as Three Sisters, an opera by Peter Eötvös. Three Sisters won an award from France’s Syndicat National de la Critique and was presented at the Opéra de Lyon, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels and during Vienna’s Festwochen.

Ushio Amagatsu was named a Chevalier des arts et des lettres by France and received the Geijutu Sensho Prize for lifetime achievement. His piece Hibiki won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production in 2002.

Sankai Juku
Sankai Juku, meaning “studio between mountain and sea,” was founded and got its start in Japan in 1975. Kinkan Shonen (1978), the company’s first major piece, stunned audiences with its new vision of butoh. In contrast to the frenzy of radical protest out of which the dance form grew, Sankai Juku’s artistic director has a more cosmological view. He believes the forces of movement, impulse and expression lead inescapably back to the origins of the world.

“Sankai Juku has transformed the bodies of suffering or of negativity that are often seen in butoh into dazzlingly aesthetic spectacles. [...] The dancers move as elegantly as waterweeds, and they are free from any special meanings or burden.” (Asahi Shimbun, Japan)

In 1980, the company was invited to the Festival de Nancy in France. It was such a hit that Sankai Juku was added to the Festival d’Avignon program the same year. For the French, it was love at first sight. The news spread fast, and the Japanese spent four years being invited to the biggest theatres and festivals in Europe. Since 1982, Sankai Juku’s pieces have been finalized in France and staged at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris.

Western European tours were followed by ones to North and South America, Eastern Europe and the rest of Asia. Since it was founded in 1975, Sankai Juku has performed in over 700 cities in 40 countries.


February 2006

Photos Jacques Denarnaud