IMPRESSIONS: Vangeline Theater/New York Butoh Institute “The Slowest Wave” at Triskelion (TRISK)
Vangeline Theater/New York Butoh Institute
“The Slowest Wave”
Dancers: Azumi Oe, Sindy Butz, Margherita Tisato, Kana Takahashi, Kelsey Strauch, Miki (Zhixuan Zhu), Vangeline
Sound Score: Ray Sweeten
Lighting: Ayumu Poe Saegusa
Triskelion Arts, Brooklyn
October 8, 2022
The Slowest Wave refers to brain waves (Theta and Delta) present in deep, dreamlike states of consciousness. Accessing these states in waking life is one of the aims of Butoh, according to Vangeline, the reigning queen of New York’s Butoh scene. In her book, “Butoh: Cradling Empty Space,” she maintains they have a healing as well as an aesthetic value.
Vangeline’s exploration of these inner depths comes in two parts, or two waves. The first begins with three women in white lying motionless on their backs for at least five minutes. This stillness makes the slightest subsequent movement dramatic. The audience was hooked as Vangeline lifted a finger, then a hand, then by a series of barely perceptible shifts, an arm overhead.
All three women eventually get into the act, rolling from side to side, arching their backs and flexing their feet, stretching out to kneel in arabesque, as a dim white light morphs into an intense red. This takes place amid a soundscape of animal noises – birdsongs, pig snorts —and an industrial hum that periodically builds to a roar. So little is happening that you notice how much is happening.
The entire first section felt like a Delta wave, a slow loopy roll along the ocean floor of consciousness. When Vangeline extends her tongue toward the ceiling, she’s like a sea anemone probing the tide.
The second wave felt like a nightmare. A corps of six women strapped into sexy black and silver leotards dominate --- strutting and swirling in military formations, skittering across the floor like insects, on their backs. Downstage a lone woman is in the spotlight, writhing as if on a seat of torture. Miki (Zhixuan Zhu) tries to protect herself with extreme turned-in feet and arms, and works her mouth into silent howls – Mayday, help me! No one hears -- and suddenly, she leaps up and joins the circle of Amazon-like women.
“Amazon” has a jungle of meanings. Besides female warriors in the ancient world, it evokes the world’s longest river, and the world’s fastest-growing business behemoth -- with its corporate automatons, and its workers fighting for vestiges of human dignity, such as bathroom breaks. If we can’t beat them, must we join them? Miki’s capitulation was a terrifying turn – a fall into the totalitarian future that is already here.
Another chilling image: Five women sit on the floor --- two facing two, with the imposing Sindy Butz upstage, at the head. It had the symmetry of a Japanese tea ceremony, but dim light and a gray haze made it feel more like a corporate board meeting or a fascist war council. The lighting effects by Ayumu Poe Saegusa were continuously dramatic, a match for Ray Sweeten’s shape-shifting sound score.
This riveting hour-long experience ends on a tender note. After a blackout, two women in white kneel in a double arabesque, face to face, breast to breast. Their chins touch as they bend their necks up and away, like swans in human form. This is Butoh, but it is also pure dance, intimate beauty. And whatever befalls us, they can’t take that away.