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Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
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Sankai Juku's 'Umusuna: Memories Before History' brings beauty to stillness

by Joanna G. Harris
October 9, 2015
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
415.978.ARTS (2787)
Joanna G. Harris Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
Program notes explain that "Umusuna" implies everything and nothing, existence and nothingness. Na evokes the land, one’s native place.

All these elements can be found, if sought, in Sankai Juku’s “Umusuna” performance. The work is choreographed in seven sections, and from the color schemes and costumes as well as the movement material, one gets a sense of time and seasons.

For those who have not seen Butoh, the information below (from their website) provides a basic image.

“Sankai Juku” means "studio by the mountain and the sea" and implies the serenity and calm which is characteristic of the work.

Sankai Juku's dancers have, like other typical Butoh dancers, shaved heads and bodies covered in white powder. They may be costumed, partially costumed, or almost unclothed. Rarely wearing typical “street” clothing onstage, they sometimes wear long skirt-like garments. The all-male company’s work is performed by as few as six dancers eschewing the movements typical of modern or other dance forms. The performances are characterized by slow, mesmerizing passages, often using repetition and incorporating the whole body, sometimes focusing only on the feet or fingers.

To appreciate all this, it is appropriate to clear one’s expectations and just take it in. The opening section “Atokata: Imprints” was a solo performed before a cascade of falling sand. The dancer set the meditative mood exquisitely. This was followed by a section featuring men dressed in red, who were livelier, using sweeping circular formations and long arm swings. The program read: “All that is born.” “Memories from water” follow. The dancers dressed in costumes with green accents stayed on the ground throughout, undulating from stage right to left in long lines.

“Mirror of forests” followed, then "Sedimentation and erosion, ad infinitum.” The closing section “Ubusu” brought all the men together through changing formations to stillness.

It was extraordinary to be audience to this work. For this viewer, the disturbing element was the music by Takashi Kako, Yas-Kaz and Yoichiro Yoshikawa was strident and piercing and upset the dance qualities. The excellent performers were: Ushio Amagatsu, Semimaru, Sho Takeuchi, Akihito Ichihara, Dai Matsuoka, Norihito Ishii, and Shunsuke Momoki.
Sankai Juku in 'Umusuna: Memories Before History.'

Sankai Juku in "Umusuna: Memories Before History."


Sankai Juku in 'Umusuna: Memories Before History.'

Sankai Juku in "Umusuna: Memories Before History."


Sankai Juku in 'Umusuna: Memories Before History.'

Sankai Juku in "Umusuna: Memories Before History."

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