May I Speak About Dance?
May I Speak About Dance? is a brilliant piece of dance performance that entices the audience into its power from the early and modest semblance of a lecture-demonstration, the questions Barkan raises, through to the pulsing vibrancy of his conclusion. What is going on inside the dancer? Does it bear any relationship to the experience of the audience? The answer has to be a resounding, yes!
Accompanied on stage by the Danish Butôh dancer Jørgen Callesen (standing immobile centre-stage, gaze blank, dressed simply in black), Barkan at first embraces the style and the questions posed by the French dancer-choreographer Jerôme Bel in the 1990s. Bel became the embodiment of non-dance, a form that sought to explore how a choreographer composed pieces, chose one movement rather than another, stripping away references and illusion, those things that are casually assumed to connect the audience with the dancer through the spectacle.
Meanwhile, Callesen is coming to life with slow movements, independent of Barkan’s talk, with the constrained energy, the muscular tension, that is characteristic of Japanese Butôh. And Callesen is very good at evoking neutrality.
But is neutrality really possible? Can a body be stripped of references and illusions? Obviously not, as Barkan shows us with growing urgency as he comes to the crux of his questioning and invokes the spirit of Tatsumi Hijikata, co-founder of the radical, experimental performance movement Butoh and his most revelatory piece of work, The Revolt of the Flesh.
As Callesen changes costume to transform himself into Hijikata, Barakan sets the scene. It is 1968 and there is a revoltution taking place in Tokyo; in the midst of student and workers’ protests, Hijikata decides to stage his most radical performance.
What follows is a perfect experience of co-creativity, when the audience, fired by the performers’ energy, opens up to the collective imagination and The Revolt of the Flesh comes alive again in that climatic moment when Hijikata understands something crucial and we do too.
May I Speak About Dance? is a clever and profound performance, simple and modest, witty and playful; it is meta-dance, and yet perfectly paced and controlled like Butôh itself, carrying the audience on a surge of energy to Hijikata’s liberating revelation. If you want to experience that revelation yourself, I can recommend you go and see the show.
Reviewer: Jackie Fletcher