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Butoh Festival Explores Global Body

Bodies covered in chalky white. Imperceptible movements. Ritualistic intention. These distinctive qualities of Butoh performance often combine to create a surreal, transfixing effect. Though its roots lie in 1960’s Japanese counterculture, Butoh is now an internationally known form with practitioners across the globe. Seattle is lucky to have its own Butoh group, DAIPANbutoh collective, which presents work by its members throughout the year and hosts the annual Seattle Butoh Festival. Currently in its sixth year, the festival attracts artists from around the world for a series of workshops and performances. There are several performance events in this year’s festival: one at Broadway Performance Hall on July 17-18, and a separate outdoors event in Kubota Gardens on July 19, called Wandering and Wondering. SeattleDances caught up with DAIPANbutoh member Joan Laage, to hear more about the collective and this year’s festival.

Photo by Gerardo Piñon

SeattleDances: How long has DAIPANbutoh been established and how did the Seattle Butoh Festival come about?

Laage: We formed our collective, DAIPANbutoh, in 2009. A collective that Sheri Brown (DAIPAN Artistic Director) and other members had been part of, P.A.N., disbanded, and people wanted to find a way to continue having a collective. The main difference between P.A.N. and DAIPAN as collectives is that DAIPAN members support each other’s work and sometimes perform in each other’s pieces, but not until this year’s festival have we actually collaborated on a performance. I held the first Seattle Butoh Festival in 1998 on Capitol Hill as a way to present my work and other Seattle artists’ work, and as a forum to bring in outside guest artists. SU-EN from Sweden (with roots in Japan under Butoh’s founder Tatsumi Hijikata lineage) came, and Kokoro from Vancouver, B.C. Then in 2000, d.k. Pan and Will Manalang joined me in presenting a bigger, larger festival held at On The Boards. When DAIPAN was formed we soon decided that we wanted to host annual festivals to present local, national, and international Butoh artists, as festivals bring a higher profile for our Butoh activities in the Northwest.


SeattleDances: Though Butoh has been around for some time now, many people remain unfamiliar with the nuances of the form. What are some of the most important elements of Butoh that you might explain to someone who’s never seen a performance before?

Laage: The fundamental philosophy and aesthetics of Butoh are: 1) inner journeys revealed through body shaping and movement; 2) the body (and human) as nature (I think of it as “celebrating the body as nature;” 3) time as other than a human construction (cycles of nature, rhythms of the body systems); 4) cultivating stillness; 5) being and becoming rather than expressing; 6) contemporary yet ancient; 7) play of darkness and light; and 8) accepting and seeing beauty in aging and the grotesque. But all of these are not always experienced or sensed in an artist’s performance, and there’s quite a range of aesthetics and themes within the Butoh world.

Seattle Butoh Festival guest artist Diego Piñón
Photo by Gisela Mora & Ana Soler

SeattleDances: Tell us a bit about the theme of this year’s festival, “Exploring the Global Body.” How did the collaboration with your guest artist, Diego Piñón, come about?

Laage: Diego has been exploring this “theme” for a while already and we all decided to make it the focus of our festival this year. I’ve known Diego for a number of years, having met him years ago at the San Francisco Butoh Festival and seen him perform and taken a few workshops here and other places, but it is really members Sheri Brown and Diana Garcia-Snyder (who is also Mexican) who encouraged DAIPAN to bring him to Seattle. Diego is a major teacher and inspiration for them and they have been performing under his direction for a while. I would say what most appeals to them (and many other people as the numbers of our workshop participants confirm) is his commitment to forging and strengthening communities with a spirit of individual and collective creativity and a respect for diversity which encourages inclusion of the general population. “Exploring the Global Body” is the underlying theme of DAIPAN’s piece, and as Butoh continues to be the path many artists take from so many backgrounds nationally and culturally, it is very appropriate.


SeattleDances: It sounds like you will be presenting your first full length ensemble piece for the festival’s performance on July 17-18. What has the process been like for creating a piece of this scale? What have been some of the challenges?

Laage: This is the first piece we have created collectively, which means each of us brought ideas, movement, etc. to the collective; worked choreographically with the other members; and shaped the whole piece. The biggest challenges are that we five are very different bodies and minds, and our creative methods and certain perspectives on the creative process and butoh as an art genre don’t always mesh. So there has been a lot of pressing of ideas, etc., and also surrendering. It has certainly helped tremendously that our working relationships as administrators and organizers has really grown over the years and this process has involved a great deal of “getting to know” and “appreciate” our strengths and weaknesses towards an increasingly functional and successful organization. Also, we have all performed with each other in each other’s work and already had a sense of each person as a director.

Photo by Rafael Perez Evans

SeattleDances: Will you be performing different works at Kubota Gardens on July 19 than will be presented onstage at Broadway Performance Hall on July 17-18?

Laage: Absolutely! Broadway Performance Hall is a great stage with all of the theatrical support for performance that one could ask for. We’ve hired a lighting and a costume designer who are really an integral part of our creative team, not to mention master composer Stephen Fandrich. We are pleased to offer Diego such a great environment to share his work too.

Kubota Garden’s event is a site-specific event, which is called Wandering & Wondering. It’s an annual event in Kubota (this is its third year) and also in the Seattle Japanese Garden (its fifth year, which will be held August 16, 2015). I am director of this event, which has 12-16 dancers and musicians with a different structure each year and in each garden. I invited Diego to be our guest director this year and look forward to participating in it under his direction. The basic premise of Wandering & Wondering  is “listening” and responding to the sights, sounds, etc. of the garden, which includes other performers and visitors. Viewers are free to “wander” around designated areas of Kubota Garden for over 3 hours.


SeattleDances: What do you hope people will take away from this year’s festival performances?

Laage: To become enlivened, enchanted, inspired. To experience the magic and mystery of life and Butoh through sharing our art and energies. To gain a sense of the breadth and depth of Butoh as an ever-evolving global performance genre.

Seattle Butoh Festival performances run at Broadway Performance Hall July 17-18 at 8 PM. Tickets can be purchased here. Wandering and Wondering, a free event, will be performed at the Kubota Gardens on July 19 from 12-3 PM.

More information about DAIPANbutoh can be found on their website. .