Butoh dance group Sankai Juku offers a transformative experience with ‘Hibiki: Resonance from Far Away’

A moment from Sankai Juku’s “Hibiki: Resonance from Far Away”

We’re all about broadening our cultural horizons here at Chicago Theatre Addict. Last night at Harris Theatre I caught Sankai Juku, a world-renowned Japanese Butoh dance company, co-presented with The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago and MCA Stage.

Prior to curtain, my theatre companion and I pulled up a definition of Butoh on my phone, as we knew nothing about it. According to the fine folks at Wikipedia, Butoh “typically involves playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, extreme or absurd environments, and is traditionally performed in white body makeup with slow hyper-controlled motion, with or without an audience. There is no set style, and it may be purely conceptual with no movement at all.”

So, technically, I could be performing Butoh right now, sitting in this computer chair in my home office. Sweet.

Luckily what we experienced last night was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and infinitely more resonant then watching me sit around in my pajamas. (Unless you’re into that sort of thing.)

This Tokyo-based group performed founder Ushio Amagatsu’s signature work Hibiki: Resonance from Far Away, and the experience was unsettling, maddening, hypnotic and beautiful. I realize that’s a wide range of descriptors, but it’s true. The ghost-white, bald male dancers weaved around a stage dusted in fine sand, while shallow glass bowls resembling giant contact lenses collected water dripping slowly from urns above. An eclectic score — flipping from simple, repetitive piano cords and wind chimes to distressing electronic landscapes — set the eerie and unsettling tone. We were transported from birth, to life, to death, and ultimately: rebirth.

Ok, to be honest, it took me a while to ease into this slow, hypercontrolled style of dance — after a stressful day at the office, my keyed-up self fought against it (hence the maddening part). It challenged me to sit still and pay attention. I began studying the deceptively simple moves: a minor hand movement (sometimes just a finger pointing); the bend of an ankle; the way an arm slowly stretched up to the sky for acceptance. I managed to let the stress of my day fall around me and concentrate on these master artists doing their thing. In a word, it was transformative.

But the piece wasn’t for all — I spotted at least a dozen walk-outs on the main floor.

Their loss. These choreographed images conjured up by Mr. Amagatsu continue to burn in my mind. It’s a piece that grows the more I think about it, and will stick with me for some time. And judging by the very warm response the group received yesterday evening by the rapt audience, I’m assuming I’m not alone.

Check out Harris Theatre’s current season >

4 thoughts on “Butoh dance group Sankai Juku offers a transformative experience with ‘Hibiki: Resonance from Far Away’

  1. Your theatre companion agrees with your view. For those who have a chance to catch this performance, some words of advice: slow down. Take the time to let your mind at ease and take in what surrounds you.

  2. My husband and I were 2 of the walkers. We would have left earlier, if we didn’t have such great seats in the seventh row up and have to walk past so many people. I guess its one of those things hyped up as a rare performance of a cultural era, very foreign to me, but none the less appearing in our fine city! So of course we had to go! Oh well – win some lose some. Definitely lost on this one.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Andrea. You must have been two of the walkers I spotted. I was in row p. To each their own!

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