You are here
Fluid voguing, done butoh-style
In the Mood for Frankie/Return of La Argentina
IF you're not already a butoh fan, expect to be perplexed by American artist Trajal Harrell's practice of butoh in his study of voguing, a highly stylised dance that evolved out of the Harlem ballroom scene in the 1980s.
Harrell's art-making premise is to find unique ways to look at and make dance from a singular aesthetic point of view. So he looked at voguing through the lens of butoh, an exploration he started in 2013.
On a dance floor that has a marble design projected on it, bookended by small Persian rugs, Harrell and his two fellow dancers, Ondrej Vidlar and Thibault Lac, paraded in as models, wearing different outfits or just holding up a top or a skirt to their bodies.
Each tiptoed in on bare feet - as if on high heels - and what proceeded for the next 50 minutes was a "fashion parade" of clothes from Ann Demeulemeester, Commes des Garçons, Jean Paul Gaultier and the performers' own. But the whole parade was as slow as molasses, as the dancers sought to articulate and even isolate each and every movement - drawing out every hand gesture and walk.
Gestural, stylistic, individualistic - they were in a world of their own as they internalised their movements and swayed to their own rhythms. One could appreciate the intense concentration - and some movement experts in the audience could be heard praising the fluidity or quality of movement in the dancers.
But suffice to say that if you're not a fan of butoh and neither do you have insider knowledge of the fashion scene, there's little point to the process except to say that voguing can be done in slow motion.
Harrell presented his 30-minute piece Return to La Argentina the next day which had more of a narrative to it and did at least engage somewhat with the small audience. Here, he incorporates influences from butoh practitioner Kazuo Ohno, flamenco dancer Antonia Merce and butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata - but if you're none the wiser, it may as well be about Harrell spending the day at home doing mundane things very slowly.
Here, Harrell entered the room, which had three benches containing domestic objects - one was like a walk-in wardrobe, another bench was the "kitchen" where he put together a bowl of cereal, and then the third bench was the "living room". Again, he paraded with a few clothes, and spent an inordinate amount of time eating cereal and running his spoon around the bowl like it was a Tibetan singing bowl - before he finally exited with colourful mittens on his hands, waving goodbye to the audience. This was a sassy, more theatrical piece, but one is thankful as well that it lasted only 30 minutes.
Harrell is touted as one of the most important choreographers of the new generation in the US, and these two pieces offer an insight into his research and practice - which sound a lot more impressive on paper than how the actual performance is presented.