REVIEW: Kagemi: Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors

Butoh is an avant-garde Japanese dance form that emerged in the 1960s.It is traditionally performed in white body makeup and has extremely slow and highly controlled movements.  The slow pace and lack of clear storyline, may not be to everybody’s liking, but if want to “discover” this art form then Sankai Juku’s “Kagemi: Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors” is the show to watch.
Sankai Juku was founded in 1975 by Ushio Amagatsu who first choreographed Kagemi in 2000. The artistic dance is very poetic (albeit unravelling slightly ponderously at times), and brings together a simple minimalist d├ęcor, with stunningly effective lighting and costumes. 
Led by 65-year-old Amagatsu himself, who still commands the stage, the all-male cast perform a very contemplative choreography that invites the viewer to look inside themselves. The piece begins with Amagatsu moving to a background accompaniment of plaintive koto strings, the movements slowly extending from his torso through his arms as branches gently swaying to the wind. Next to him a field of lotus leaves slowly lift to reveal six dancers, all with shaved heads and covered in chalk (as per the Butoh tradition). The music throughout the 90-minute performance, will be in turn melancholic, then more animated, and somewhat apocalyptic drawing on a mix of Eastern and Western styles with techno electronics giving it a contemporary edge.Amagatsu has a sure sense of theatricality using costumes and lighting to their full potential and at the climax of the piece, four dancers wearing long dresses splashed with paint start smearing red paint on their faces while their distorted mouths gasp soundless screams.
There is stillness in every movement, and the alabaster dancers stripped of their individuality move like mystic priests under the long-stemmed lotuses, as Amagatsu seeks to use Butoh to examine the “tension and relaxation of gravity just like the principle of life and its process.”