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THE WONDER OF BUTOH DANCE, ORIGINAL MUSIC -- AND HAPPY GAY PRIDE MONTH!

Updated: Jul 3



The evening of June 27 I received a stunning and wonderful gift by attending my eighth Groupmuse* performance in San Francisco at the LGBTQ Center on Market Street. Firdy (pictured here) as curator of the art show on exhibit, hosted Butoh dancers, principal dancer Mark Galvan and guest dancer Hector Jaime, with Groupmuse violinist, composer, and vocalist Michele Walther who accompanied the dancers.


To my shame -- and delight -- I had no clue as to what Butoh was. Within a minute of Mark Galvan's compelling introductory dance, I was so curious, captivated, and stunned that I had to know more! I took a few seconds to look up "Butoh" on my cell, and learned that:


"Butoh is a form of Japanese dance theater that encompasses a diverse range of activities, techniques and motivations for dance, performance, or movement. Following World War II, butoh arose in 1959 through collaborations between its two key founders, Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno. The art form is known to "resist fixity"[1] and is difficult to define... It is traditionally performed in white body makeup with slow hyper-controlled movement.


Butoh is said to be an attempt to uncover the dance that already exists, that it must emerge from within, and not be imposed from without. For sure, it is an extremely athletic and demanding dance form!


That form has developed through the years as various dancers and performing groups have developed their own styles, costumes, movements, and versions of self expression and meaning. Accordingly, Mark and Hector chose unique flowing costuming and donned no white face makeup that is traditional. Most of their performances were both inspired and improvisational, save for a complex lift of Mark by Hector. Butoh clearly has roots in classic ballet, hip hop, break dancing, popping and locking, modern dance, and gymnastics as well as ritual trance movement - and more!


Mark's style was intensely personal. After the performance, he told us the dance represented a healing journey into self-acceptance as a gay Latino man experiencing many challenges in life, including dealing with an HIV diagnoses. His self-revelation in well-placed expectation of acceptance and love from audience members, engendered empathy and a palpable connection between dancers, musician, and guests.


Of particular interest was the compelling musical accompaniment that Michele played as an integral part of the performances. I was especially delighted at one point when, while playing her violin, she slowly moved to center stage and swayed in a coordinated slow dance while the two dancers entwined their bodies around her. Later she told me that "all pieces had a clear concept. Two pieces were written/composed original pieces - 'Mother Earth' and 'Meditation.' These are written like a jazz piece with a theme and a chordal structure, but then I improvise over it. The rest was mostly improvised, with a structure."


Michele complemented the dancers with the nature of her ethereal, meditative music and keen attention to and coordination with the dancers' movements. Thus, she amplified the performances and knit them together.


When reading Wikipedia during those first few seconds of Mark's opening piece (starting on the floor, pictured here) before his partner joined him, I felt a tad bit sad to learn that butoh often deals with grief, struggle, anger, agony, grotesquerie, darkness, and decay. That makes sense, because butoh was originally developed in opposition to traditional Japanese Noh and the influence of Western dance styles.


"In opposition to" caught my eye and I then watched carefully to see if all I could see in the dance were negative life experiences and emotions?


But no!



True, there were movements that were powerfully expressed and reflected loneliness and struggle, even anger and darkness, but overall the performance reminded me of the eternal ebb and flow of movement forward in some of the Romantic Era musical compositions that transport me with their slow tempo, gorgeous harmonies, and seductive melodies.


At times I was hyper focused and exquisitely present when watching. At other points I would drift into deep feelings. At one point I felt tears well up and was afraid I might cry (I am just now tearing up again to remember it!).


I was called from time to time throughout into reveries about how life is full of multifaceted, evanescent rainbows and storms.



During the discussion period after the performances, one guest expressed my point above. I wish I had the ability to remember and quote her articulate observations about life, the complex nature of butoh, and the stunning performances - comments to which we all resonated in harmony.


Even more, I hope you will have a chance to see butoh for yourself, and let me know what you think and feel about that experience!

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*I hope everyone will visit the Groupmuse worker-musician collective's webpage and view the ever-increasing opportunities to visit homes, apartments, and lovely art galleries where you may experience music in a very intimate way, and make new musical friends. The past year we have hosted four Groupmuse concerts, three in our home and one in our local branch public library. Our next home concert is this coming Nov. 10 with a return visit by guitarist Alejo Cordero, He will play a new all-Latin American folk music program and including his own compositions. You may send me an email and I shall post you via email when the program goes up, where you pay a $5 reservation fee (seating is limited to 15) to ensure you have a seat. Donations in cash or via the website are accepted at the performance and all contributed goes directly to the musician, but no one is ever turned away for inablility to donate! the requested amount representing fair payment to the musician!

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