A film by Ren Gyo Soh
Performed & Choreographed by Yokko
12-24 January 2021
Review: By Brendan McCall
Since its origins last century in Japan, butoh has occupied a unique territory of performance frequently overlapping with the immediate and the cosmic. Perhaps due to the slow time-signatures frequently permeating this form, butoh alters the consciousness of the audience, allowing each viewer the opportunity for greater attention to detail, from the delicate movements of the body to the archetypal power of the images themselves. And while butoh performances have been extensively documented in photography for decades, there is something particularly poignant about viewing Ren Gyo Soh´s No One during our ongoing global pandemic. Covid-19 has torn through the fabric of many communities–economically, politically, physically–and this 20-minute butoh film latches its fingers into this breach, powerfully expressing what many of us feel and long for.
No One opens with Yokko´s pale form crouched at the bottom of a dark, narrow shaft, whose floor is covered in long ropes. Sounds of a giant ticking clock and heavy synthesizers add to the ominous atmosphere, through the unsettling score by César Dávila-Irizarry. The first quarter of the piece focuses on Yokko´s attempt to rise up, to be free of this bondage, before suddenly moving spastically and quickly, collapsing back to the floor in failure. The choice to have the perspective looking down on Yokko in this narrow shaft emphasizes helplessness, isolation, no escape. Dávila-Irizarry´s sound and Krzy Sien´s cinematography bring us intimately in contact with Yokko, through the screen.
As No One progresses, Yokko´s body doubles, thanks to the inventive editing of Yoshiko Sienkiewicz. Sometimes another version hovers outside her body like a spirit, or a ghost. Later, we see giant eyes, calmly radiating serenity in stark contrast to Yokko´s struggles at the bottom of this cell-like shaft. Perhaps we are meant to question what we perceive.
Towards the middle of the piece, the images superimpose again, but this time with Yokko playing in a beautiful open field, running in giant circles, and hopping in playful imitation of a rabbit. Dávila-Irizarry´s haunting music becomes lighter, almost transcendent, and the images could not be more contrasting. The green of the trees and the grass, the blue of the vast open sky, the freedom to move; the dark and narrow corridor, the ropes, the physical confinement. Is the vision of this freedom of the field a memory? A dream, an aspiration for the future? The piece concludes with the image completely shifting to the open field, with Yokko running further and further towards the horizon, disappearing from view, but presumably continuing to roam. The final image is of the edge of this park, overlooking a small bay.
Viewing No One provides not only a more intimate experience of viewing butoh, but also can prove cathartic. Ren Gyo Soh´s film is a beautiful moving portrait, often painted in anguish, about how we all long for life joyously outside.