Japan’s longest-standing butoh company will be taking audiences on a visually spectacular quest for paradise in all its absurdly elusive forms.
Internationally acclaimed butoh dance company Dairakudakan returns to this year’s Vancouver International Dance Festival (VIDF) with its latest work, Paradise, March 10–11 at the Vancouver Playhouse.
“Choreographer and director Akaji Maro set his sights on utopia,” says VIDF’s co-producer Barbara Bourget.
The work took form when Maro discovered that if hell was well represented in literature and various cultures, he couldn’t find a common definition of the concept of paradise.
“This ignited a process of creation and exploration that culminated in this surreal, spectacular and bizarrely beautiful work,” says Bourget.
Paradise as inner ability
“When I was thinking about this new work, these words came to my mind: paradise, paratyphoid, paranoia… It sounded like a disease,” Maro explains in his artist statement.
For him, hell seems to have been well explored.
“When you think about hell, there are a lot of ideas. For example, there is Divine Comedy by Dante. In Buddhism, there are eight forms of hell. In our real life, hell is killing each other in the battlefield. But I don’t know much about paradise. We can imagine as much as we want, but I wanted to pursue something more realistic,” he says.
Paradise gradually emerged as a study in contrast. The etymology of the word paradise, says Maro, is from old Persian. It describes an enclosed garden.
“That must have been paradise in a hot desert. I think there was an idea that the real world is tough as hell. To contrast that, the idea of paradise must have been created,” says Maro.
The contrast also highlights adversity. Maro goes on to explain that all around us are threatening conditions such as severe cold weather and typhoons.
“Under those circumstances, animals will hibernate and remain still. When humans face impossible suffering, we try to work it out. For example, our brain produces endorphins and transforms pain to pleasure. In other words, it is paradise within our body. Paradise can be called a product of perseverance,” he says.
Such a paradise within is an entirely subjective experience. One person’s paradise can be another one’s hell.
“How you work around it and how to seek pleasure can be limitless. People won’t feel [like] fighting in a war when they are having a good time in an opium den. If outsiders see this situation, it may look very miserable, but it can be their paradise,” says Maro.
As a result of Maro’s complex vision of paradise, Dairakudakan’s 21 members transform themselves on a haunting journey through surreal jungles from ghoulish roller-skating gangs to bound and chained masses and more.
“This dance is not about the muscles, but the nerves,” says Maro.
Tradition and innovation
This year also marks Maro’s 45th anniversary with the ensemble.
“Maro has advanced butoh considerably through dramatic choreography and theatrics, coupled with a distinct focus on individuality within the group,” says Bourget.
Butoh emerged in the 1960s as Japan’s answer to western dance styles of ballet and modern and is typically characterized by the dancers’ whitened bodies, shaved heads and fragmented movements.
“One of Maro’s influential teachings entitled ichinin-ippa (“one dancer, one school”) explores the notion that individual ensemble members should be able to express and create their own movement vocabularies,” says Bourget.
For more information, visit www.vidf.ca.