On October 25 and 26, 2013 Theater for the New City will present prize-winning Swedish choreographer and butoh artist SU-EN, the leading representative of butoh dance in Sweden, in “SOOT,” a new solo butoh performance on the theme of blackness. In the piece, a solo dancer enters a world of leftover particles, depicting how civilization and cultural human behavior relinquish remnants that cannot be controlled or discarded.
The work of SU-EN is strongly influenced by processes in nature, the struggle and the friction of inevitable changes in life. She explains this philosophy in the context of this dance, writing “Powdery soot makes its own dance in chimneys in cottages and industries, threatening the existence of living beings. The process of organic material is an ever-changing process. The wood is chopped in the spring from logs, burnt in the fireplace in winter, leaving heat to warm our bodies, leaving ash that we throw on the ash pile, and leaving soot-a material disintegrating, dissolving, transforming, changing.”
The piece is further explained in a poem:
In a space of incompleteness
She senses her way
Following the fragrance of powdery black
Softly licking a barely visible wound
Listening through fingertips
Skin ripped, healing with an itch
What remains when pain leaves?
When civilization falls asleep?
Embracing the world
The blackness of the dance is a dark symphony in its own. Black drinks in all other color and devours light. In “SOOT,” the theatrical space is a space between all colors and the blackness of the room is shifted only through soft color shades.
Prior to this dark-hued performance, the SU-EN Butoh Company (www.suenbutohcompany.net) earned its reputation with large, colorful ensemble works of cruel beauty. It was launched in Japan in 1992 and relocated to Haglund Skola, north of Uppsala (Sweden), in 1994. It just celebrated its 20th Anniversary. The troupe tours domestically and internationally; this piece has been performed in Seattle, Stockholm and Malmo.
Dancer SU-EN, born Susanna Akerlund, lived in Tokyo from 1986 to 1994. She writes, “In 1988, I was stunned by the art form of butoh when I saw the company Hakutobo perform Nyusho nu Onna at Jean Jean Theatre in Shibuya, Tokyo. Shortly afterwards, I joined open workshops at the performance space Terpsichore that were led by Yoko Ashikawa and the Hakutobo dancers. It took a bare five minutes before I realized this was my destiny. It was time to bid farewell to other performance expressions and to surrender myself to this butoh method. I was 19 years old, and the search was over.”
From 1988 to 1994, she apprenticed with the legendary dancer Yoko Ashikawa (one of the great woman dancers to perform under Butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata) at the group Tomoe Shizune & Hakutobo in Tokyo, following which she returned to Scandinavia and established butoh dance in Sweden. She and also holds a nattori license, under the name Kei Izumo, in the traditional Japanese dance form Jiuta-mai.
She established her SU-EN Butoh Company in Tokyo in 1992 and relocated it to Sweden in 1994. It is currently based in Haglund Skola, north of Uppsala. The company tours domestically and overseas in proscenium and site-specific performances, workshops, film productions, projects and lectures. It has performed in Europe, North America, South America and Scandinavia. The company celebrated its twentieth anniversary last year. Its major productions include “Kaze no Cho” (1992), “Shadows in Bloom” (1996), “Scrap Bodies” (1998), the film “Universal Body” (1999, in collaboration with Gunilla Leander), “Atomic” (1999), “Headless” (2000) and “Slice” (2003). SU-EN Butoh Company produced mainly solo work from 1998 to 2004, followed by a period devoted exclusively to large ensemble pieces for larger venues. “SOOT” is its first solo after that period. The company has also mounted wide ranging events including curated festivals, art dance events, collaborations with visual artists, crash performances, art performances and voice work.
Critic Giles Kennedy has written, “There is a ferocious integrity to the butoh body of SU-EN. The beauty is poetic, its treatment of the flesh and its decay concrete. It is a modern, yet timeless, exploration of what it is to be alive. This performance makes no excuses, accepts no compromises in its contemplation of the expressive qualities of the flesh.”
Following the TNC production, “SOOT” will be presented in February, 2013 at Dansens Hus in Stockholm, Sweden, after which it will tour in Scandinavia and internationally.
“SOOT” is choreographed and performed by SU-EN (Sweden). Music is by Lee Berwick (UK). Lighting design is by Svante W. Monie (Sweden). The space is by SU-EN and Svante W. Monie. Stage art and costume are by SU-EN.
SU-EN writes, “All of us in the SU-EN Butoh Company are thrilled to be back at TNC and show our new piece. Last year our appearance was canceled, sadly, due to Superstorm Sandy, but this year nothing can stop us! We are very grateful to Crystal Field for inviting us.”
“SOOT” will be presented by Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (between 9th and 10th Streets), NYC for two days, October 25 and 26, 2013 at 8:00 PM. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by calling (212) 254-1109 or visiting www.theaterforthenewcity.net.