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News

Burlesque and Butoh in Trans-mute

[ The University of Melbourne Voice Vol. 6, No. 5  3 May - 13 June 2010 ]

Student performers are throwing their bodies and minds into Trans-mute, a Union House Theatre show using Butoh and cabaret. By Katherine Smith.

The anti-establishment ethos of the Japanese art form Butoh and the decadence of Weimar era burlesque and cabaret meet in a new production by Melbourne’s legendary Butoh artist Yumi Umiumare, with University of Melbourne student theatre-makers.

Trans-mute weaves together shapes, movement and the grotesque to challenge audiences to explore the dark side of life through taboo topics and visual extremes.

Butoh was developed in Japan after the Second World War, when students and the wider public were beginning to challenge traditional authority, and Japanese dancers began to reject the conservative Noh style of traditional musical drama. They were also uncomfortable with the mimicking of western ballet and so Butoh practitioners began to delve into the grotesque and enthrall artists and audiences from the fringes. It is typically performed with very slow, exaggerated movements, often with the dance artist wearing white face makeup.

Yumi Umiumare is the only Japanese Butoh artist in Australia, having come to Australia after training in classical ballet and contemporary dance as well as physical education in Japan. She says that Butoh “attempts to explore the most fundamental elements of physical and psychological existence by proposing grotesque, absurd or extreme images”.

Student performer Danielle Asciak, who is doing a six-year double degree in Arts and Music, is a veteran of student theatre, having been heavily involved with musical theatre and other shows on and off campus.

Majoring in classical voice and cinema/theatre studies she says that performers in this show don’t really have one “role”.

“The actors are all equal in this show, no-one is really cast as the ‘lead’, everyone has an equal part on stage, and in the devising and collaborating,” she says. “During the last few rehearsals we’ve been writing our own materials and workshopping and shaping the show. We gave ourselves characters and have been exploring them. The essence of cabaret is audience interaction (confronting the audience and breaking down the fourth wall), so we are exploring how to interact with and connect with the audience and capture Butoh transformation.”

Danielle explains that although Butoh emerged as a reaction to more conformist dance styles, she calls her fellow cast members actors.

“Butoh is physical theatre, and a lot of people involved in this show haven’t come from a dance background. Among the cast there are some that have come from traditional drama backgrounds, while some of us have come from a musical background from high school, while some of us have come from a musical background. And there are some who come from a combined dance, music and drama background, so we all vary in terms of experience.

“The main thing is that you have to be able to throw your body into something, to really trust your body and rely on your muscles. Anyone can do Butoh, it’s all about letting go of the mind and allowing the body to take control.”

Trans-mute, Guild Theatre, Union House, 20-22, 26-29 May at 7.30pm; 28 May at 2pm. Tickets: $20/$15/$10 Union members. More and book online at:
union.unimelb.edu.au/transmute

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