Deeper emotional waters

Butoh is not a dance that strives to please. It dives instead into deeper emotional waters, exploring feelings of anxiety, pain, rage and loss. The beauty of Butoh is not that it’s necessarily lovely to watch, but that it resonates with complex human emotions — emotions that are not always shared openly.

Born in a time of great political and psychological strife (Japan after the World War II), Butoh is known to be disturbing and joyous, grotesque and haunting. And unlike other forms of dance, Butoh has no set vocabulary. “The movement is animalistic and primitive,” says Julie Becton Gillum, a dance teacher at Warren Wilson College and an organizer of this year’s Asheville Butoh Festival. “Butoh can range from meditative to frenzied; it’s idiosyncratic and very individual.”

The upcoming Asheville Butoh Dance Festival, produced by Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre and Legacy Butoh, offers a chance to see, experience and practice this remarkable, emotive form of dance. The festival, which begins on Wednesday, June 13 and continues through Monday, June, 18, is packed with Butoh-inspired events, including a film screening, live concerts at the BeBe Theatre, workshops and street performances.

The festival kicks off with a film screening at the Black Mountain College Museum on Wednesday. The evening lineup includes:

– A screening of Lake Eden, shot on the former Black Mountain College campus, by Megan Ransmeier and Lucas Baumann;

– An excerpt from the 2011 Boulder Butoh Festival filmed by Peter Brezny;

– A clip from the documentary, Oblivion, The Origins, Impact and Future of Butoh (a collaboration between Brezny and Gillum which is currently in production);

– Rainer Doost’s film of the live performance Ghosts of the South; and

– Ransmeier’s short-film titled Thrown Body. This film screening offers a chance to see the many manifestations of Butoh on and off the stage.

The Asheville Butoh Festival then presents a four-night run of live performances at the BeBe Theatre, starting on Thursday, June 14. The concerts, featuring duets and solos by both visiting and local artists, explore themes of transformation, metamorphosis and the body. Chimera, one of the many pieces in the showcase, contemplates, “the hidden and shadow self; the dark parts of ourselves that we live with internally and don’t allow out to the world,” says Gillum, who choreographed the dance in collaboration with Sara Baird.

Those interested in learning the art of Butoh are invited to attend workshops by dancers Nicole LeGette, Monika Gross and Vanessa Skantze. The art of Butoh depends on a dancer’s ability to “internalize and express an inner landscape” of emotions, says Gillum, stressing that anyone can learn and benefit from Butoh.

LeGette’s workshop, “Taxonomy of Transformation,” as stated in press for the event, strives to “identify and investigate specific techniques that bring renewed attention to and encourage detailed crafting of the dance of transformation.” Gross’ workshop, “The Continuity of Becoming,” fuses Butoh with simple principles of the Alexander Technique to “widened [one’s] awareness of infinite Time and Space.” Skantze’s workshop, “Deep listening … Ankoku Butoh,” investigates the “the instrument of the body, its spirals, waves, folds and twists.”

Throughout the festival, Butoh will also be performed live on the streets of downtown Asheville. Street-side performances include Excursus  by Anemone Dance Theatre and Legacy Butoh, and solos performances by Gillum, and dancers Valeria Watson-Doost and Jenni Cockrell. 

Performer and dancer LeGette says this of her relationship with Butoh: “I consider myself a body theorist and practitioner whose concern is with the dilemma we encounter as beings possessing both spirit and body. I seek to illuminate a culture more responsive to body consciousness and use dance as the most direct means to confront this personal/social/political rebellion.”

Since Butoh is an emotional, internal art, it focuses on the body as it is, without imposing structure or form onto it. “In modern dance I always felt inadequate,” says Gillum. “I couldn’t get my leg high enough, I couldn’t balance long enough, I was fat; everything just squelched me. With Butoh, I learned to love my body, for its strength, for its uniqueness. I learned to love my body and accept it on its terms.” Butoh, argues Gillum, is accessible to everyone. With a grin, she adds, “and the older you get, the better you get.”

At the Asheville Butoh Festival

When and where: Opening night film screening on Wednesday, June 13, at Black Mountain College Museum, 6 p.m., $5.

Butoh performances at the BeBe Theatre will be held Thursday, June 14 through Sunday June 17, 8 p.m., $15/$10 seniors & students in advance; $17/$12 at the door.

Butoh workshops will be held Saturday, June 16 through Monday, June 18, at the BeBe Theatre.

Street-side butoh performances are free and will begin at 6 p.m.: Excursus at Pack Place Park on Thursday, June 14; a solo by Gillum on Wall St. on Friday, June 15; a solo by Valeria Watson-Doost on Eagle and Market streets on Saturday, June 16; and a solo by Jenni Cockrell at Pritchard Park on Sunday, June 16.

For a complete schedule of events:,, or 254 2621

— Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt can be reached at


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About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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