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IMPRESSIONS: Queer Butoh 2022, 
Vangeline Theater/New York Butoh Institute in collaboration with The Brick

IMPRESSIONS:  Queer Butoh 2022, 
Vangeline Theater/New York Butoh Institute in collaboration with The Brick

Published on July 6, 2022
Xue and Mervin Wong; photo by Jose Miranda

Choreography: dustin maxwell, Xue and Mervin Wong, Hélène Barrier

Performers:  dustin maxwell, Kayva Yang, Mei Maeda, Xue, Mervin Wong, Hélène Barrier

Butoh dance is notorious for its dim lights and interminably slow pace of movement.  But watching a dancer crawl across a murky stage for a half-hour can also be seen as speeding up time — that is, “deep time,” the clock of the earth or the universe.  For example, it took two billion years for life to evolve from protoplasm to post-feminism.  This year’s Queer Butoh festival performed it in two hours.

In my mind, the program’s three pieces corresponded roughly to a distant past, a dystopian present, and a desolate future.  Along the way the dances bent and bashed categories of gender and sex — a queer history of the universe.  

Two naked figures huddle in the foregraound, beside them a black cloak on the floor, in the back ground another figure stands crouched over a large silk white piece of fabric
dustin maxwell, Mei Maeda  and Kayva Yang in in a dark forest partly illuminated; photo by Jose Miranda

in a dark forest partly illuminated by dustin maxwell looks like a creation story.  It begins with two human bodies shrouded in black, with only backs and arms visible in a gradually lifting haze. They move like amoebas, with arms as pseudopods, probing.  They find each other, meld into one form, and morph into abstract shapes.  

Another human form then unrolls from a golden shroud and rolls slowly forward in a cocoon of black.  It puts on a show of sensual movement — rolling and tumbling, slithering and undulating, leading with the gluteus maximus, the essence of seductive femininity.  It turns out to be a man.  He emerges naked and disoriented, stands up and teeters on his toes, and stumbles back to square one. 

two naked figures in profile sit on floor gazing up into the air while holding lights in the palm of one upstretched hand... perhaps searching
Mei Maeda  and Kayva Yang in in a dark forest partly illuminated  by dustin maxwell; photo by Jose Miranda

The two original creatures then re-emerge, naked in frontal view, shining little lights from their hands. They’re women, but they remember their protozoan past, and again they find each other, nestle and nuzzle, explore and know each other.  The man stays apart, but his movements seem to pick up something from theirs.  

A queerly moving final scene has three naked butts crawling to the rear of the stage, the two women close together, swaying in tandem — the man sidling slowly, gingerly toward them.  In the end they touch; two become three, undifferentiated.

a woman, her face painted white with black triangles streaking down her face from her eyes ( like tears) stares out into the audience.. her teet are black , her hair is disheveld a mass of black and long blonde... she appears surreal and as if she is speaking to us, behind her, to her left,  but out of focus, is a person with a painted white face with black stripes playing an electronic audio board
Xue and Mervin Wong in Shadowbloom; photo by Jose Miranda

in a dark forest... was a deeply felt performance by maxwell, Mei Maeda, and Kayva Yang, exploring the origins of queer existence in a dim past.  By contrast. Shadowbloom was a depressing stare at a familiar present.  In ghostly white makeup, the Singaporean performer Xue is trapped in a blob of light and sound controlled by her bad-clown keeper, Mervin Wong.  He operates her through an audio board, a computer and an electric viola, which he plays as he patrols around the circle.  Infantilized, enslaved and incarcerated, the woman explores her tiny world but does not get beyond it.  If this were a séance, I’d summon Betty Friedan

The sixth annual Queer Butoh festival was produced by the formidable Vangeline, who has given this far-out art form a place to grow in New York.  Butoh was born in Japan but Vangeline’s version comes with a French twist — as seen in the show’s finale, a queer Eurovision by a “citizen artist” from France.   


a figure in smokey light whose face and torso are covered by a mass of bulbous textile breasts and protruding from their chest are large hanging textile ball sacks the figure is seated  quietly for now
Hélène Barrier in META GENDER; photo by Jose Miranda

To a chanson of desespoir, Hélène Barrier in META GENDER, enters holding a grotesque mass of bulbous blobs that completely cover her head, face and neck.  The rest of her is stuffed into stockings – a body stocking holding packs of fake muscle, a penis and testicles filled with flour.

The performer lowers her head-covering to reveal the face of a world-weary Parisienne, who proceeds to suck hungrily on the blobs. She then removes her male genitals, whacks the testicles into oblivion on the floor, flexes and rejects the muscle mass, and ends curled up in a fetal position, clinging to the headgear.

If this suggests the end of feminism, or the collapse of Western civilization, Butoh has no problem with things like that. In deep time, they’re barely a blip.   

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