Butoh bridging cultures

  • by Joe Landini
  • Tuesday May 27, 2008
Share this Post:
Paige Sorvillo/Blindsight in <i>House.</i><br> Photo: Ian Winters
Paige Sorvillo/Blindsight in House.
Photo: Ian Winters

San Francisco's International Arts Festival strives to tackle the big issues: globalization, the advent of network technology, and socio-political violence. Local butoh choreographer Paige Sorvillo investigates these issues with her new work Thirty Seven Isolated Events, which was developed in collaboration with media artist Lucy HG.

"I began the piece as an American living abroad during the beginning of the Iraq war, and receiving lots of questions about our foreign policy," Sorvillo said. "As citizens, all of the information we receive is mediated. It's through the news or video or the Internet. To some degree, it's impossible to know what's really going on. And at the same time, as citizens of this country, we are responsible for what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. So how do we deal with that? How do we witness tragedy and violence, and not become inured to it? Those questions are really the heart of the piece. 37 refers to our body temperature, in degrees Celsius, and Isolated Events is about the way that we isolate ourselves from the things that we see, particularly in the media."

Butoh is a unique form of contemporary dance and in some ways is the ideal idiom for San Francisco culture, said CounterPULSE director Jessica Robinson. "Butoh is a truly radical art form, which makes it perfect for San Francisco. Sorvillo uses this form to create one of the most subtle yet powerful commentaries on war that I've ever seen. It's innovative, collaborative, shocking and beautiful."

Thirty Seven Isolated Events integrates contemporary butoh with live video and an original sound score. Sorvillo's and her collaborators' goal was to create a piece that connects the dots between what is happening across the world and what's happening in our own backyards. By engaging all the senses, the artists hope that they can find a connection among the threads of intimacy and violence that co-exist in contemporary culture.

Collaboration is an integral part of the International Arts Fest, and Isolated Events includes work by artists from SF, LA, and Australia, while much of the material was developed in the Czech Republic.

"We all met at an interdisciplinary arts festival in the Czech Republic," said Sorvillo, "where we lived and worked for one month in a converted mill, ate meals together and exchanged creative methodologies. We created this work largely through phone, email and short flights between SF and LA. We are excited to have our whole working group in SF in this time leading up to the SF International Arts Festival."

Australian composer Susan Hawkins and Oakland-based composer Liz Allbee fuse their own sonic dialects to create a live sound environment that places the "network noise" of contemporary society into conflict with the bodies on stage. LA media artist Lucy HG contributes an immersive and interactive video environment that remaps, redefines and recreates the bodies on stage. Sorvillo's choreography is visceral and full of provocative imagery seamlessly integrated with the other components.

"It's breathtakingly beautiful," said Robinson. "The video is an integral part of the piece, it's literally projected on the dancers' bodies, on the walls, and it's incredibly sophisticated and highly interactive. So the experience for the audience is not isolation, it's actually a feeling of being completely enveloped by the world that the artists create."

Ultimately, the artists hope that the audience will experience the piece is such a way that they will feel connected to events that are happening across the world.

"Thirty-seven isolated events occur all the time," said Lucy HG, "in one's own kitchen and on the other side of the world. We hope viewers begin to find, with us, points of connection within the piece, and in the world."

Thirty Seven Isolated Events at CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission St., SF). May 29-31 at 8pm. Tickets ($16-$20): (800) 838-3006. Info: www.counterpulse.org.