Intense, obsessive and initially anarchic, butoh is a neo-Expressionist form of movement theater that developed in Japan after World War II as a profound outcry against that country's embrace of Westernization (especially regarding contemporary dance) and the cult of the exquisite in its traditional arts. Don't call it a style; the level of commitment required from performers and audiences alike makes it more like a calling -- a deep, dark world of its own.
The program titled "Global Butoh" at Highways Performance Space on Saturday explored facets of this still-controversial but increasingly influential phenomenon.
Three companies performed, and a video screening, a gallery installation plus pre-performance and intermission pieces provided extra immersion.
Making his local debut, Kyoto-based butoh master Katsura Kan joined Canadian dancer Gabriella Daris for "Fable in Two," a duet unusual for its spiritual as well as its physical intimacy.
Nearly naked and accompanied by Francois Sardi's live environmental sound score, Kan and Daris made the slow evolution of body sculpture powerfully engaging, their remarkable fluidity creating a kind of undersea lyricism.
Lifts and floor-clusters, unison footwork and even a cheek-to-cheek passage expressed togetherness; at one point, they stood side by side, surveying the landscape and tracing the same facial transitions from sadness to glee to fierce anger.
Her awakening solo had a stretchy sensuality and linear elegance, his moments alone a twitchier attack, with outbursts of finger-pointing rage but also moments in which he seemed to have rethought the way the human body moves, twisting inward or outward with fabulous dexterity.
Directed by Joe Talkington, Los Angeles' own Corpus Delicti group performed "Mi Casa es Su Casa," in which each of the four dancers seemed to inhabit a different state of dementia but proved equally bedeviled by a mobile, free-standing, four-sided set-unit that could shelter them, imprison them or weigh them down. The raw, sustained power of the performance and the constant manipulation of the casa-unit spoke feelingly of our involvement with our living spaces and the way they can become the focus of our lives.
"iHuman" by San Francisco's Black Stone Ensemble never grew more compelling than in its simultaneously mysterious and tantalizing opening vision: bodies in darkness doing who knows what, who knows where, but drawing us into their interplay. Directed by Allison Wyper, the piece soon turned curtly prosaic, a link to the Bay Area's colloquial street theater and social satire traditions more than to butoh.
The evening also featured video by Ana Baer-Carrillo, Rick Potts, Serena Wellen and Nancy Popp; photos by Carrillo, Karolina Bieszczad-Roley and Simone Missirian; paintings by Krystine Kryttre; and additional accompaniments by Potts and James Cui.