August 1, 2018
Dressed in casual shirt and trousers, Boaz Barkan sits in a chair. He converses easily with the audience, announcing that he’d like to ‘speak about dance’. Nearby, his collaborator Jorgen Callesen stands centre stage, dressed in black jeans and vest. His blue eyes are focussed with arresting intensity, seemingly staring at nothing. Occasionally he moves, slowly tracing one arm up the other.
Boaz begins to talk animatedly about French choreographer Jerome Bel, describing moments from his 2005 work Pichet Klunchen and Myself. In this piece Bel and Klunchen demonstrated dance for one another and questioned and discussed each other’s work. May I Speak About Dance? Barkan tells us, is his response to this idea.
What follows is a wry, funny, passionate, and at times baffling lecture-demonstration-cum-re-enactment, in which a formidably focussed Callesen appears to embody the late butoh dancer Tatsumi Hijikata, while Barkan comments and reflects, taking us through pivotal moments in Hijikata’s output as a founder and pioneer of this notoriously oblique form of dance theatre. Part of the point of butoh is that evades definitions, but it is often characterised by a focus on inward states, and can be recognised by its painstakingly slow pace. Callesen is absorbing to watch but is undercut by Barkan, who takes up a place among the audience to ask, ‘What do we see when we watch dance?’
He tells us that Hijikata was influenced by visual art, and as he picks out each art reference, he labels Callesen’s slowly contorting body with post-it notes, absurdly crowding his skin with yellow squares of paper. Tongue firmly in cheek, Barkan even labels the space around Callesen, muttering “I don’t know if you can see this but…” as he stuck a post-it note to the floor. It is an effective way of pointing out how dance can be spoiled by over-intellectualising, and Barkan’s frequent undercutting of the high-brow subject matter earned a few laughs.
Barkan’s own dance and somatic work training are evident in his lively and embodied presence, and the performance is never dull. The energy builds to fever pitch as Barkan and Callesen make an oddly shabby recreation of Hijikata’s 1968 work Revolt of the Flesh, climaxing with Barkan brandishing a huge gold phallus. It is all rather arch, but I found myself won over by his conviction as with mounting energy he described this seminal butoh performance complete with animals and children on stage, which finished with Hijikata being carried aloft above the heads of the audience. When Barkan spat the words “dance is a revolution inside the body,” I felt he really believed it.
The title, May I Speak About Dance?, poses a question and I was left with many of my own. Was this a homage to Hijikata? Was the audience supposed to take it seriously or not? Was it in fact a caution against doing precisely what I do, which is try to analyse what I see? I remain uncertain but provoked. I suspect this piece will divide audiences and critics alike.