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Enigmatic austerity from the butoh troupe Sankai Juku

October 25, 2002|Jennifer Fisher | Special to The Times

The curtain calls of Sankai Juku are sumptuous, humble and majestic. At the Wednesday-night opening of "Hibiki: Resonance From Far Away," at UCLA's Royce Hall, the "I am your servant" slow curtsies were the perfect ending for another stylishly enigmatic pageant from performers whose austerity and skill reward anyone who slows down long enough to soak it in.

What always comes first with this perpetually touring Japanese butoh troupe is "the look." It starts with the dancers' naked torsos and bald heads dusted with rice flower that makes small clouds when glacial pacing is momentarily abandoned. For the almost 90 minutes of "Hibiki," the six performers wear artfully draped skirts or robes of muted colors with occasional small slashes of red. At the edge of the stage, a number of clear, shallow plates sit, like giant contact lenses. Above them hang what look like four hummingbird feeders filled with a silvery blue liquid.

Artistic director Ushio Amagatsu, responsible for both choreography and design, alternates his own poetic solos with sections in which his dancers cluster, exploring traveling arm movements, panning the horizon, and breaking into occasional jumps and earthbound scurries. Seemingly programmed by alien forces, they suddenly become awash with, and contorted by, their own desire. Faces tend to be set in drone-like masks, except for that of the dancer Semimaru, whose emotional inner life is like liquid light, motivating his drifting or contorted limbs. Amagatsu also looks elegantly alive, moving through clawed or stretched poses, wilting and stiffening like an enchanted plant.

The recorded score, by Takashi Kako and Yoichiro Yoshikawa, effectively supports moods with menacing electronic cries and synthesized symphonic passages reminiscent of the most emotional Barber or Elgar, as well as with drips, cricket sounds and sudden storms. Dancers often seem oblivious to music, but when arms do glide on melodic rhythms, it's all the more effective for being rare.

When the end comes, a return to opening fetal positions brings to mind life-and-death circularity. But a final gesture punctuates the theme with the kind of subtle clue Sankai Juku tends to offer before the finely calibrated leave-taking.


Sankai Juku

Where: Royce Hall, UCLA

When: Tonight at 8

Price: $35-$45

Contact: (310) 825-2101

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