Yeung Siu-fong (front), Miguel Camarero (behind); Photo: Mak Chong Wai, provided by Moving Arts Hong Kong
As part of the HK Butoh Season 2017, Moving Arts Hong Kong presented Strangers in the Garden 2 – Black Milk and White Coal Exchange Performance Project. On the second floor of an almost derelict building with narrow uneven stairs leading to the entrance, the performance venue allowed for only about 40 people. Audience members sit on the floor, on stools, chairs, or a sofa in what could have been an office or living space, with remnants of furniture seemingly left behind by the landlord or a previous tenant. The stage is set for an atypical evening.
A large black cloth hangs at the back of the room, while white crushed paper forms a cone-shaped sculpture at one corner below a yellow light, and a long mirror with fluorescent lights nestles in the other corner. Pressing against the black cloth, the first silhouettes signal the start of the performance – faces, palms, feet, elbows, and other body parts that are not easy to identify, make impressions that are scary against a haunting soundscape and live music by Wilson Tsang.
Yumiko Yoshioka; Photo: Mak Chong Wai, provided by Moving Arts Hong Kong
Through the centre of the cloth a dancer emerges (the legendary Yumiko Yoshioka). Only her whitened face with geisha-like painted lips is visible. Like a suspended mask, moving her face vertically she animatedly looks around with a gamut of expressions that rivets the audience. She then begins to interact with the other performers who remain hidden, leaving the audience wondering how many there are. There are arms and legs that signify multiple identities – a Caucasian leg, an Asian Arm, an older man, and a younger woman. This interplay continues for several minutes until Yoshioka emerges for her solo. Since the advent of Butoh in the 1950s with the great Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata, butoh has spread across the globe, evolving distinct and individual styles. Yumiko Yoshioka performed with Ariadone, Japan’s first all-female butoh dance troupe formed by Ko Murobushi and Carlotta Ikeda in 1974. In 1998, she moved to Berlin where she continued to develop her own philosophy of movement. She refers to her style as “body resonance”, which she defines as integrating butoh, Noguchi gymnastics, and various Asian practices with organic movement, listening, and breathing.
Yumiko Yoshioka; Photo: Maximillian Cheng, provided by Moving Arts Hong Kong
After her solo, Yoshioka begins to improvise with Vinci Mok. Here we witness the master and the novice in action. Improvisation is a powerful tool of creativity that takes years to be embodied. Yoshioka exhibits incredible range and control, spontaneously enjoying the visceral responses to her own body. She allows herself moments of unadulterated joy as she reacts to her fellow performers as well as the audience, and it appears to spring from deep within her consciousness, never pretentious or contrived. She withdraws behind the curtain to emerge in a ‘new’ costume carrying a metal basin filled with black paint, appearing shaman-like. Slowly Miguel Camarero and painter, body-performer Yeung Siu-fong escape the black curtain. Yueng starts painting with brush strokes of black ink across a white paper canvas, stretched across the floor from the sculpture that was initially in the corner. Yeung paints with her feet while the upper half of her body appears to be manipulated, like a marionette, by the hairy Caucasian arms of Camarero still wrapped in the black cloth. They appear as one and yet, at other times, as separate. Ultimately, Yeung emerges to reveal herself. Those who have not seen Yeung before gasp, seeing that she doesn’t have arms but from that moment, she is in complete control of the audience. She engulfs those present with her concentration and takes them on a journey. Enthralled and amazed at her dexterity, we watch as she paints bold strokes of black paint on other bodies too – the black milk on white coal. The company moves cohesively as one, exchanging and interacting with each other in a slow ritualistic crescendo.
Butoh is not a mainstream art form in Hong Kong but this experience in an alternative space performed to a limited audience, is an example of how performances such as this can serve segments of the local community. In an intimate space, Black Milk and White Coal was a much-needed onslaught to the senses in a bustling city filled with slick productions and conventionally beautiful dance.
was Dean of Dance, National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage, Malaysia for two decades. He is an award-winning choreographer, author, curator of international festivals, producer, and artistic director of ASK Dance Company, based in Malaysia. He now works at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.
HK Butoh Season 2017- Strangers in the Garden 2 – Black Milk and White Coal Exchange Performance Project
Artistic Consultant: Yumiko Yoshioka
Live Music/Sound Performer: Wilson Tsang
Performance: 8 May 2017 20:00 Tong 3