“Rare are choreographers able to dramatically convey notions as improbable as the invisible, the intimate, the mystery of self. For those willing to plunge headlong into this contemporary ritual, that adventure is possible.” (Le Monde, Paris)
For the past 35 years Sankai Juku has been fascinating dance aficionados all over the world. It helps, of course, that the works by company founder and artistic director Ushio Amagatsu are quite remarkable. Dense, hypnotic and rich with an austere, astounding beauty, they articulate his very personal vision of butoh and leave an unforgettable impression. After presenting sold-out Kagemi at Danse Danse in 2006, the celebrated company is back with Hibiki (Resonance from Far Away), which received a Laurence Olivier Award for best new dance production in London in 2002. Quite simply magnetic.
“Hibiki is a wonder, combining and balancing movement, music, scenery and lighting. It engraves in the spectator’s consciousness images of extreme power and impression. It is a unique and supreme aesthetic experience, a “school” for conceptual design of movement, staging, costumes and concept – briefly, a must for all those who admire beauty.” (Ynet, Tel Aviv)
In the text accompanying Hibiki, Ushio Amagatsu concludes with these lines: “An embryo… circulating inside a mother’s womb is like the motion of the waves. It is the Primal Resonance.” Divided into six tableaux, Hibiki is to a certain extent an invitation to capture that resonance, to take the pulse of the universe. Dressed in long robes, with shaven heads and their bodies covered in white powder, the dancers become mediums, sensitive to the fluctuations of the world, for what Amagatsu calls “an understanding not of words, but a resonance, the dialogue of consciousness”.
“This distant resonance revisits a life that has the inflection of experiences we attribute to the shadows – ancestors, unequivocal images, the soul free of affect.” (Midi Libre, Montpellier)
Like all of Amagatsu’s works, Hibiki has a quality of ritual. On a stage covered in fine sand, water drips slowly from suspended glass urns into large glass plates. The precise, meticulous movements, the incredibly intense dancers, the set design, the lighting and the soundtrack – each component of the piece is polished and consummate, contributing to a magnificent whole.
Born in 1949, Ushio Amagatsu studied ballet and modern dance in Tokyo before turning to butoh. The butoh contemporary dance movement evolved in Japan in the 1960s, seeking to reinvent beauty as an expression of humanitarian awareness in the wake of the cataclysms of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Part of the second generation of butoh artists, he strives for a clearer, more transparent version. He views butoh as more than a formal technique or academic style. For Amagatsu, butoh expresses the language of the body so as 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 his book Dialogue avec la gravité, 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 or move without gravity, without entering into an exchange with it. This is even truer for dance, which becomes a dialogue with gravity.” Aside from his work with his own 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 and Three Sisters, an opera by Peter Eötvös. It 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. Three Sisters won the French critics’ award granted by the Syndicat National de la Critique. Named a Chevalier des arts et des lettres by the French government, Ushio Amagatsu also received the Geijutu Sensho award for lifetime achievement. A major discovery at the 1987 Festival international de nouvelle danse with his presentation of Jomon Sho, Amagatsu returned in 1990 with Unetsu and was back in Montreal again in 2006 with Kagemi. He and his dancers captivated audiences with each visit.
“The great visual beauty that is synonymous with the Japanese troupe Sankai Juku was indeed in place last night at Place des Arts, and half the audience rose in a standing ovation full of emotion.” (Le Devoir)
“Kagemi, par-delÀ la mÉtaphore du miroir is a complex, intriguing piece. When it is over the spectator is exhausted, but satisfied to the full.” (La Presse)
Sankai Juku, which means “studio between mountain and sea”, got its start in Japan in 1975. Its first major piece Kinkan Shonen (1978) stunned audiences with a new image of butoh. In contrast to the frenzy of radical protest that then typified butoh, he offered a more cosmological view. He believes that the forces of movement, impulse and expression lead inescapably to the origins of the world.
"The Sankai Juku dancers let themselves be observed like an unknown human species. We gradually decipher the enigma, right there on the marbled skin covered with a white powder that scatters as the piece unfolds. […] From smiles to grimace, spirals to spasms, blind to anything that is not part of this possession and this enclosed world, they exist only in this implacable presence, this acceptance of sensations for which they are the receptacle." (Le Monde, Paris)
In 1980 the company was invited to the Festival de Nancy in France. Sankai Juku was such a success that it was added to the Festival d’Avignon program that same year. One success led to another and the company spent four years in Europe, invited to the biggest theatres and festivals. Since 1982, Sankai Juku’s dance pieces have been finalized in France and staged at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris.
From Western Europe it ventured out to North and South America, Eastern Europe and Asia. Now based in Tokyo, Sankai Juku is the most popular Japanese touring company, and has performed in over 700 cities in some 40 countries.
HIBIKI (Resonance from Far Away)
Directed, Choreographed and Designed byUshio Amagatsu. Music byTakashi Kako and Yoichiro Yoshikawa. Dancers Ushio AMAGATSU, SEMIMARU, Sho TAKEUCHI, Akihito ICHIHARA, Ichiro HASEGAWA, Dai MATSUOKA. Co-produced by Théâtre de la Ville, Paris, France. Hancher Auditorium, University of Iowa, USA. Biwako Hall, Center for the Performing Arts, Shiga, Japan. Sankai Juku. Collaboration CNCD d’Angers-I’Esquisse, France. Production Management Pomegranate Arts, Linda Brumbach.
Sankai Juku is supported by the Agency for Cultural Affairs Government ofJapan in the fiscal 2010 and Shiseido.
Photos © Masafumi Sakamoto
90 minutes – no intermission