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“What Happened In Shanghai“ by Victoria Chiu. Photograph by Gregory Lorenzutti

Revolution & Resilience

Asia TOPA presents Akira Kasai's “Pollen Revolution” and “What Happened in Shanghai” by Victoria Chiu

Performance
Asia TOPA presents Akira Kasai's “Pollen Revolution” and “What Happened in Shanghai” by Victoria Chiu
Place
Melbourne, Victoria, February 2020
Words
Gracia Haby

Pollen grains can be dispersed by wind, insect, bird, or animal, and in the case of Akira Kasai’s “Pollen Revolution,” they can even be liberated within and dispersed by a dancer. Kasai’s “Pollen Revolution,” one of three performances presented within Dancehouse’s Japan Focus, alongside Ruri Mito’s “Matou” and Takao Kawaguchi’s “Good Luck,” as part of the 2020 Asia TOPA: Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts dance program, pollinates and vibrates the imagination in a way that only the “Nijinsky of Butoh” can.

Falling in abundance, falling to the ground, “mixed by atmospheric turbulence, resulting in a uniform pollen rain over a given area”1 within the Sylvia Staehli Theatre, analysis of this pollen rain gives us the essence of past, present, and future in a state of perpetual growth. In echo of the movement of pollen, dispersed within the theatre on Thursday night: ideas, cultures, ways and states of being, the exploration of elastic time—who said it was linear? perception, and the many scattered pathways it presents.

Mitsutake Kasai in “Pollen Revolution” by Akira Kasai. Photograph by Daido Hiroyasu

“By considering butoh’s seeds as pollen that dissipates and takes root in unexpected locations…. [“Pollen Revolution” conveys] that butoh moves through bodies to alter consciousness. A pollen revolution is a change brought about by human openings to outside environmental forces, a process that for Kasai requires that a dancer sacrifice their material body to the performance moment.”2

Kasai’s “Pollen Revolution” prompts me to question the western labels we impose on non-western cultures which embody different conceptions of time3—traditional or premodern with contemporary forms, modern, postmodern, experimental—and in doing so, the difference between past, present, and future vanishes. Why do we perceive time as flowing forward?4 Understand this: “specific dance forms and lineages [are] trans-national and trans-historical.”5 Eternal, spirit; transient, material.

Mitsutake Kasai in “Pollen Revolution” by Akira Kasai. Photograph by Daido Hiroyasu

“Pollen Revolution,” which toured the world between 2001 and 2005, begins as it did then, only now it is Kasai’s own son, Mitsutake Kasai, in the elaborate costume of the young maiden from Kyōkanoko Musume Dōjōji, dancing as if he is smashing his whole body into pieces,6 ornamented and perforated in various ways, just like those spherical or elliptical pollen grains. Transmitting the unconscious, the future, and the force of life in the space between; as Akira Kasai describes, when the ‘I’ is subsumed by a larger, ancient energy where all the words ever spoken exist after an ‘I’ dies, butoh becomes possible. It is not the inner aspect of the dancer performing, but the physical matter itself which existed long before the human ‘I’ existed (“Pollen Revolution” program 2001).

Through the retinal fatigue induced by complementary colours, a series of after images delight my eye. The intensity of Mitsutake Kasai’s cyan kimono hovers as a red after image. Later, depending upon the length and intensity of the lighting, the red detailing of the costume appears as a cyan pulse. A blue-violet hue etches a yellow after image on the screen behind, and I feel I am simultaneously beneath the earth, travelling at speed, and floating in the clouds through cultures and the materialisation of the unknown. Just as you don’t need to understand the meaning of words to understand their power,7 I am simultaneously watching things evolve in time lapse, and a part of life’s great web itself. A series of intersecting lines bite the floor, short and sharp, breaking the rhythm like a tanka poem.

At the end of the performance, the beautiful red spark of light which slowly falls and resides within the dancer’s body once more is found the following night in the intimacy of Victoria Chiu’s “What Happened in Shanghai,” also presented as part of Asia TOPA, in the North Magdalen Laundry within the Abbotsford Convent precinct.

“What Happened In Shanghai“ by Victoria Chiu. Photograph by Gregory Lorenzutti

From “what is the nature which forms my body?” (“Pollen Revolution” program 2001) to “what do we inherit from family tragedies in times past?” four dancers Isabelle Beauverd, Alice Dixon, Janette Hoe, Lui Ya Nan (in Shanghai), and Chiu (dancing for Kristina Chan) “explore the spaces between death and new life, influenced by the resilience passed down from their female ancestors.”8 With our shoes and bags left by the door, the audience gathers in a loose circle on the floor, as Chiu encourages us to share, in mother tongue, a memory of our own female ancestors. Like the invisible thread, felt not formed, we follow the dancers throughout the space, finding that what was past is what is present, and what is present is what will come. The cyclical nature of family, memory, perception, and growth; endless transformation, once more.

Beauverd pauses in a moment with her arms overhead and her top concealing her face, as if getting changed. Upon the white screen her top has made, her grandmother’s face is projected, and the two, past and present, are revealed to be one and the same. Grain by scarce grain, Hoe, in the evolution of butoh, appears to eat loss and anguish, as musician Mindy Meng Wang, framed like a still-life beneath a tall red window, plucks the Guzheng. Dixon catches a projected rain of figures like stars upon her body, and Chiu’s silhouette appears as if she is levitating in the continuous darkened hallways of a projected other world, same time.

And somehow even the unsettling collision of the layers of quiet revelation created within the laundry and the sound of glass being smashed in the neighbouring outside space, as part of the harmonious chaos of “HuRU-hARa,” all worked; another opening to the outside.

  1. Keith D. Bennett, Kathy J. Willis, “Pollen.” in: John P. Smol, H. John B. Birks, William M. Last, Raymond S. Bradley, Keith Alverson (eds) Tracking Environmental Change Using Lake Sediments. Developments in Paleoenvironmental Research, 3, Springer, Dordrecht, 2002, 6
  2. Megan V. Nicely, “Growing New Life: Kasai Akira’s butoh,” citing “Pollen Revolution” Program Notes, 2002 in Bruce Baird, Rosemary Candelario (eds) The Routledge Companion to Butoh Performance, chapter 21 (Routledge: New York, 2018)
  3. “On Contemporaneity,” Maria Randall and Yumi Umiumare in conversation with Dr. Priya Srinivasan and Dr. Philipa Rothfield, forthcoming session of Conversations at MPavillion, March 5, 2020
  4. Stephen Johnson citing Carlo Rovelli, “‘Time is elastic:’ Why time passes faster atop a mountain than at sea level,” Big Think, December 31, 2019, https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/time-perception, accessed February 21, 2020
  5. “The Japan Focus …. program opens up multiple invitations: to perceive time beyond the linearity of Western thought; to conceive of tradition as a continuum of contemporaneity; and to understand specific dance forms and lineages as trans-national and trans-historical.” Asia TOPA at Dancehouse, http://www.dancehouse.com.au/performance/performancedetails.php?id=361, accessed February 21, 2020
  6. Kazuko Kuniyoshi, “Contemporary Dance in Japan: New wave in dance and butoh after the 1990s,” Kyoko Yoshida (trans), Autumn Patterson (ed), Walker Art Centre, 2004, http://media.walkerart.org/pdf/akira.pdf, 6
  7. Akira Kasai in interview, “Artist Interview: A look into the choreographic art of Akira Kasai, fifty years after entering the world of Butoh,” The Japan Foundation, Performing Arts Network Japan, February 26, 2013, https://performingarts.jp/E/art_interview/1301/1.html, accessed February 21, 2020
  8. “Despite recent travel restrictions impacting the arrival of our international artists, the show will go on with the incredible support of local dancers, projection operators and lighting crew. This is a collaborative show that explores notions of inherited resilience and adaption to change — themes playing out in Shanghai, every day of this crisis. The show will now incorporate new projected material from our international collaborators reflecting on events unfolding in China and globally.” Victoria Chiu, “What Happened in Shanghai” Instagram coronavirus announcement, February 18, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/B8qKzb1A6uJ/
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