A thin beam of light shines on a woman draped in some sort of autumnal cape that flows to the floor around her.
Slowly, her hands creep out of the garment, contorted, twisted limbs that resemble the talons of some strange giant bird. Gradually, by means of two almost invisible wires on each side, she and the cloak begin to grow, higher and higher, until she looms on stage as a towering giant, a mythical creature trapped In a tree, perhaps, her face forever trozen In a look mingling disgust, terror and the tiniest hint of hope.
So begins "Nocturne" thc 90-minute work by Butoh-sha Tenkei, practitioners of the sometimes fascinating, sometimes maddening contemporary Japanese dance movement known as butoh. The work is a series of mostly solo images that first with reality without ever giving in to it. After the opening featuring the troupe's exquisitely subtle movement artist. Mutsuko Tanaka, another performer leaps out from the sidelines. her back to the audience, decked out in a Japanese nag. In one of the few fast-moving stretches in the piece, she dances to a mambo, furiously continuing much longer than most Western audiences would expect.
"Nocturne" functions as contemporary art and painstaking lesson in another aesthetic mindset. Much of its imagery is accessible and even familiar, thanks to the abstraction of modern painting and dance. But its slow-motion pace demands a patience and concentration almost extraordinary for the casual Westem patron. In that sense. it may have an even stronger impact here, a kind of enforced meditation on a culture gone speed-happy with chaunel-searching and movies geared for short attention spans.
"Nocturne" almost bullies its audience into a heightened consciousness. Its ongoing images, one after the other, have a haunting beauty while always managing to suggest ugliness, horror, deformity and madness, too. Tall columns of cloth become illuminatod cages containing surreal, almost gnome-like characters, including, in one stunning late sequence, founder Ebisu Torii, whose painted body makes him look ematiated and alien-like. Meanwhile, he gradually exits the cage from the side, managlng wtth the simplest of illusions to transform himself into an other worldly creature, creating for a time a dlsturbing, moving scullpture.
Combining Westen music with an original score by Masaru Soga, "Nocturne" features four performers but largely turns on the often magical Tanaka, her diminutlve size, fiery red eyes and painfully repressed passion matched by her focus and slow-motion mastery. Though not for everyone, "Noctune" embodies the catch phrase employed by the Dance Center of Columbia College for its Japanese dance festival, which. this engagement launches: mysterious beauty,