An odd couple

Since the beginning, we’ve been trying to unravel the mysteries of Nature. So even though Man vs. Nature isn’t exactly a new theme, two area artists are using a novel approach to explore it—fusing modern and Butoh dance styles with poetry and spoken-word theater.

Timeless themes, novel approach: The performance is “strange and atmospheric.” Photo By Arnold Wengrow

Presented by Japanese Butoh dancer Julie Gillum and playwright/poet John Crutchfield, Out There, Out Here delves into both the trauma and resilience of the human condition.

“We came to the studio with nothing,” says Gillum, performer and founder of local dance company Legacy Butoh. “John brought his poems and I brought four bamboo poles and we just played—improvising with the poles and our bodies.”

From this improvisation, which was guided by director Ron Bashford, a story emerged. “Words started bumping up against the movement, forming a constellation of meaning about human beings in nature and the struggle to find a kind of symbiosis that isn’t destructive to either party,” says Crutchfield, performer and artistic director of Corpus Theatre Collective. “[Out There, Out Here] is a very ecological piece, but we didn’t set out to do that.”

The piece begins with the characters Man and Nature, says Crutchfield, who will play the part of action-oriented Man. “Man discovers these bamboo poles and tries to build something with them and Nature comes along and knocks them down. The piece tells the story of Man realizing that there is a mind or presence to the things happening to him.”

Gillum will be dancing the role of Man’s counterpart, Nature: “I can be anything—I can be a cyclone, a crab, the wind, a pterodactyl, the grass tickling (Man’s) feet or lava sweeping down the mountain side,” Gillum says. “Nature is playful, angry and very changeable, which creates total chaos for Man, who’s trying to figure out what the hell is going on.”

Throughout the piece, Gillum will be dancing across the stage using free-form styles of modern dance influenced by principles of Butoh. “I’m not limited by form and my ADD is allowed to run wild,” Gillum says.

Crutchfield will use physical comedy to express the emotions and frustrations of Man, “like Buster Keaton in a silent film,” he says. A poem written by Crutchfield will be read in isolated verses and a musical score by Wayne Kirby will create a “strange and atmospheric” environment throughout the 40-minute piece.

The story as a whole speaks to a larger issue and global reality: That the destiny of man is undeniably tied to nature. “The final image in the piece is one of precariousness, about the mutual endangerment of humanity and nature,” Crutchfield says. 

Out There, Out Here will also feature two solo performance-art pieces by Gillum and Crutchfield. Pledge, a Butoh piece by Gillum, explores feelings of alienation in America. Clutching a bouquet of dead flowers, Gillum expresses deep frustration with her country while enacting a stylized rape scene on an American flag.

It’s important to note that Butoh is often a disturbing, yet purposeful art form. Emerging in post-World War II Japan, Butoh digs into the playful and grotesque, along with social taboos, darkness and decay. Gillum’s work reflects this, and her solo Pledge conveys violent feelings of betrayal.

“I acknowledge that the movement is not pretty,” Gillum says. “But it is expressive, it has meaning, and it’s connected with something in my soul.”

In accordance with Butoh tradition, Gillum will paint her face white for both solo pieces. Gillum’s work will include scenes of partial nudity with movement created for mature audiences only.

In contrast to the dance-oriented performances by Gillum, Crutchfield will be performing two spoken-word pieces. His solo Black Snow Flying Upward, or: My Embarrassment explores the meaning of love and, more notably, the internal turmoil caused when love is lost.

Though Out There, Out Here is a thematically abstract show, Gillum and Crutchfield insist that their work is accessible to all. “It’s edgy and weird, but it’s also visceral, grounded in basic human experiences: Betrayal, trauma, heartbreak,” says Crutchfield.

“And,” adds Gillum, “we hope that our audience will bring their own interpretations to the show.”

who: Julie Gillum and John Crutchfield present Out There, Out Here
what: Avant-garde performance art. For mature audiences.
where: NC Stage Company
when: Wednesday, Oct. 8, through Sunday, Oct. 12 (Wednesday to Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinee show at 2 p.m. $15 at the door. Wednesday is pay-what-you-can night, $6 minimum. or 239-0263)


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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One thought on “An odd couple

  1. Dr. Conor Monahan

    I absolutely loved this article. I would really like to observe this Butoh dance/ movement. Its nice to hear that people are delving into the mysteries of nature through this sort art.

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