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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Dance of Darkness

Your body is not your body. You do not move your body, you carry your ancestors and you ancestors carry you. Born almost literally from the white ashes of post WWII Japan, Butoh is a dance movement but also an artistic and intellectual response to near incomprehensible tragedy.
On Monday afternoon, Jan Huei-ling, a visiting performance artist from Taiwan, led a Butoh workshop in the Bucksbaum dance studio. She guided Grinnell students and faculty through a serious of movements based in visualization in an effort to teach them to ‘see’ with their body and to sense the countless influences which shape our existence.
Named “the dance of darkness” because the founders felt themselves fundamentally tied to their dead, Butoh aims not just to respond to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but to do so in a fundamentally Japanese—as opposed to western—way. This cultural shift was instantly apparent in Huei-ling’s teaching. Unlike many western forms of dance, in Butoh the impetus for movement does not come from the dancer—hence the ‘you are not your body.’ It comes instead from various forces which influence the whole ‘body as universal.’ Huei-ling taught this principle through metaphor by asking students to visualize strings connecting from their head into the sky, from their shoulder and knees, directly to their ancestors.
“[Butoh]’s also a reaction against capitalism and industrialism,” said Jan Huei-ling, “it’s a return to nature, and so a lot of the elements are not having a dialogue between a factory or a car but between very natural elements that live and die.”
These dialogues result in generally small, charged movements which have moved audiences tremendously, especially and with some irony, in the west.
“A lot of the movements, although they seems very simple, [have] a certain depth to them,” said Craig Quintero, Theater. “Whereas a lot of dance starts form abstraction, Butoh really starts with being touch with history, with your body, with nature, with the world… and finding the strings that connect you.”
Huei-ling and three other Taiwanese performers have been brought to Grinnell this semester by the Grinnell Theater and Dance department for the staging of a play called “Flowers of E.” Students can look for more dance workshops from Jazz to Hip-Hop later in the semester.

-compiled by Tessa Cheek

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