Friday, August 06, 2010

Research: Not Just a Job, an Adventure!

Goda-san, the legendary dance critic,  and Mikami-san of Torifune Butoh Sha
Wednesday morning (8/4) I received an email from a butoh dancer I'd met a few days before. The email contained instructions to meet her at a particular Japan Rail line at Shinjuku at 3pm. I wasn't entirely clear what we would be going to see, but I was game, so I said sure, meet you there. I felt a little bit like I was going to a rave or on a butoh scavenger hunt.

I arrived just as the train was pulling in, so I hopped on and assumed we'd find each other on the train. Note to self: in the future specify in the plan what train car you will meet in, and also whether or not to get on the train if you don't see each other on the platform. Turns out she didn't get on the train when she didn't see me, so here I was speeding off to somewhere past Yokohama without a clear notion of where I was going or why. Luckily we were able to communicate via cell email and she told me where to get off the train and a phone number to call for Torifune Butoh Sha. Now it's starting to ring a bell, but I'm still not sure what I'm walking into.

I get off at Oiso station in Kanagawa about an hour and a half after leaving Shinjuku, and call the number Yumi gave me. A man answers and long story short, says he will come to get me. We drive a few minutes from the station down curving one-lane roads and come to a beautiful hilly, wooded setting. We walk up a curving set of stone steps and come upon an outdoor stage where a workshop is in progress. I find out later that Seisaku-san is the teacher. Mikami-san is participating and the whole group of eight dancers is throwing themselves into the exercises the teacher is giving them. (Mikami and Seisaku both worked with Hijikata and the company Hakutobu.) I don't undertand everything Seisaku's saying, but the exercises involve responding physically to impulses that go shooting through the body from different points. Half of the participants move while the other half watches. Raucous laughter of appreciation greets the movement. I enjoy what I'm watching, even if I still am not quite sure what it is I'm witnessing.

When the workshop ends, I ask a woman who is translating for one of the dancers, and she explains to me that many of the dancers are participating in a 10 day program at Torifune. They live there, dance, hike, clean, and cook together from 5am until 10pm. I'm invited to join them for dinner - simple but delicious vegetable and legume dishes spread out on tatami mats on the stage. Around this time, I spot the legendary dance critic, Goda-san, who I'd met the previous week at Die Pratze. I'd been told that Goda would be giving a talk, but I'd thought it was happening Thursday. Hmm, ok. I decide to stay for his talk, which is part philosophical musings on butoh, part history lesson on the development of the dance form, and part opinions on this dancer or that. About a half an hour into the two hour talk, a different translator shows up, and it is clear that she knows a lot about butoh. When we chat after the talk ends, it turns out that she is someone I'd been emailing with, a friend of a friend! Everything has come together. We're invited to sit with the teachers and Goda-san for more food and drink and butoh gossip and story-telling. If only my Japanese were better and I could understand every word!

It turns out Goda-san is speaking again the next night, so I repeat the whole trip again on Thursday, only this time knowing better what I was getting into. Just goes to show...sometimes the best research situations are the ones you don't plan.

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