Wreck Beach Butoh
Butoh, the powerful and often controversial dance form that came out of post-war Japan, is known for its stark imagery and denunciation of the superficial. In both its choreography and its costuming, butoh often embraces an aesthetic of what many would consider ugliness—rejecting the idea that dance is the sole domain of thin, lithe dancers.
Kokoro Dance, Vancouver’s post-butoh dance company has made an international name for itself as one of Canada’s most uncompromising dance companies, taking elements of butoh and fusing it with modern dance. In a quest to escape the confines of stage, the company has taken its performances everywhere from restaurants and nightclubs to the sound towers of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, the Powell Street Festival grounds and the rooftop of Sunrise Market on Powell Street.
Every summer for the past 15 years, the company, under the direction of founders Jay Hirabayashi and Barbara Bourget, have taken their stripped-down approach to dance one step further, performing at Wreck Beach, Vancouver’s clothing-optional beach. Kokoro Dance provides the dancers (including international guests) and Mother Nature provides the rest: stage, lighting, score, costumes and even performance times, which are conditional on the tidal patterns.
On the eve of their 15th Annual Wreck Beach performance, Jay Hirabayashi provides some insight into his thought processes as he takes part in this annual dance ritual.
Diary of a Typical Wreck Beach Butoh Performance
by Jay Hirabayashi
Fortunately, there is no wind. The sky has darkened, however, and a few small drops of water start to create small explosions on my skin. Around me are the white-painted bodies of more than twenty other beings, naked like myself.
We appear to be walking slowly, but inside time has a different velocity. With each step, a week goes by. In one step we travel 100 kilometers. Our bodies lean forward to fight with resistance against the force of energy that confronts our bodies. We edge toward the ocean.
The water is numbingly cold and slowly climbs up my legs as I plow deeper into the ocean toward the North Shore that forms the backdrop to this enormous stage. To my right, I see the downtown Vancouver skyline. To my left is the dim outline of the Gulf Islands. Finally, I feel myself immersed and sense the tide pulling me against the direction I want to go. I start to swim but I feel like I am making no progress. It seems like a metaphor for my life.
Slowly, our group struggles against the tide and we swim our way westward. Underneath the water, an occasional rock covered with barnacles, cuts my legs and I shout out warnings to the others that follow.
The next part of the journey begins. We have drifted back near the shoreline and we float on our backs and bellies, rolling over when we feel the impulse of the waves that roll us first toward the shore and then wash us back out to sea. Our bodies become logs shorn from a forest, stripped of branches. We roll incessantly, restlessly, toward the beach and away from it. Eventually, I feel the beach under my body and I roll back and forth gaining new ground with each series of rolls. After gaining ten metres of beach, I curl my body into a fetal position and become still. I wait for the metamorphosis to begin.
I am no longer a log, I am some kind of organism. My body uncurls and then retreats back to being a fetus. I roll back toward the water but stop to fold in and out again. I roll back further up the beach. My need is to leave the water and find a different environment. The sand scrapes my skin, covers my face and my wet, trembling body. I have become a creature. There are spectators watching me, trying to understand what is happening to me, trying to identify with my transformations. For them, twenty minutes have passed. For me, I have evolved already through three lifetimes.
I roll on to my hands and feet and arch my back to the sky. I roll back the other way and end up on my buttocks with my hands and feet reaching for the sky. I continue this back and forth rolling, always ending in a new position, a new expression of being, a new attitude in relation to the environment of sand, sea, and sky, of me alone and of me in a community of other beings, all of us searching for how to express who we are and why we are here. I retrace the physical formations I have discovered. My companions are similarly discovering themselves as animate beings. Together, we create an unusual dance of sand-covered creatures, our morphing bodies creating a new language of communication. Eventually, we find ourselves back on to our feet and find a unity in our movement. Like a colony of ants, we form an intelligence with our group movement telepathically conveyed. We travel westward on the beach. Over the next hour, we will discover each other in this annual ritual of connection of our bodies and spirits to sand, water, and sky.
15th annual Wreck Beach Butoh
Saturday, July 10, 10:30am
Sunday, July 11, 11:15am
At the foot of the #4 Trail that starts 100 metres west of the UBC Museum of Anthropology.
No photography or video capture is allowed.
Donations are gratefully appreciated.