As she slowly rose her body from the stage floor to an upright position, solo dancer Vangeline—founder and artistic director of dance company Vangeline Theater—looked otherworldly. Her limbs twisted gracefully as she ascended, but her facial expression was full of pain. Otherworldly is a fitting description for the traditional form of Japanese Butoh—the type of dance that Vangeline Theater teaches and champions.
Vangeline Theater, along with the New York Butoh Institute, presented Flower-Secret at Greenpoint’s Triskelion Arts (106 Calyer Street) as part of the 2017 New York Butoh Festival (Nov. 17-19). The performance featured two solos of the avant-garde movement form, folding in the traditional practice of Butoh with its social and cultural significance, and bringing it all into the 21st century. Butoh was created post-World War II as a form of protest. The sporadic and unexpected movements and facial expressions of Butoh performers can be unsettling—but the visual impact is indelible. It’s meant to be subversive, but is exhilarating to watch. This historic performance, starring contemporary practitioner Vangeline and Butoh master Tetsuro Fukuhara, is an example of the artists and seminal cultural events that make their way to the corner of Calyer Street and Banker Street in Brooklyn.
Founded in 2000, Triskelion Arts provides affordable space for rehearsals, classes, and performances. The arts complex moved from Williamsburg to Greenpoint in 2015, and its current home has a mainstage theater, two studios, and a dressing room. Triskelion Arts gives artists the opportunity to develop and present new works, and offers local audiences unique programming.
And this international presentation of Butoh hit close to home with local ties. The show included lilies from Greenpoint Floral Co. (703 Manhattan Ave), photographs by local photographer Tal Shpantzer, and patrons were offered a discount for the nearby Threes Brewing (113 Franklin St).
While the presentation of Flower-Secret bridged cultures, the solos featured divisive themes: life and death, shadow and light, human and nature. The performances also explored generational and gender divides with white face makeup, masks, and props.
Vangeline’s solo “Spectral” showcased a defining element of the Butoh esthetic. As she clung onto a string of twine, tangling it around her body, she coiled and emulated the prop. Then her arms blossomed when Shpantzer’s images of flower petals were projected onstage.
Perhaps the most amusing sequence was Tetsuro Fukuhara’s performance inside a translucent piece of fabric. String lights twinkled and colored lights (designed by Andy Dickerson) were projected onto Fukuhara as he moved through the hollow tube. The final sequence featured Fukuhara dancing with a long garland of white lilies. The stems trailed behind his wayward movements, and the flower-themed evening came full circle in the final pose.
The audience exited through the lobby and Triskelion Arts’ outdoor patio, and the secret of Butoh was out.