Review by Carmel Shortall
The story of the Cenci family, in 1500s Italy, has echoed down the centuries, inspiring by turns Percy Bysshe Shelley, Stendhal and Antonin Artaud. In Beings, which was performed at the Sheephaven Bay from the 18th – 20th August, In Between Butoh have created their own interpretation of this story of incest and murder; of revolt and “the inevitability of evil” through butoh, the Japanese form of dance or performance art that allows the body – not the mind – to control movement. As such, butoh, is largely unrehearsed and uses distorting and hyper-controlled movements to express that which is normally hidden.
Entering the performance space, we notice a ‘being’ cocooned or trapped in crackling cellophane on the small stage while another figure, almost naked, huddles in the opposite corner. Frank Heierli sits to one side sawing at a cello but no sound is heard at first. Flavia Ghisalberti is the imprisoned figure onstage who extends and retracts one limb and then another in futile attempts to escape her cocoon as Ezio Tangini slowly strains and writhes his way across the room in a nightmarish tangle of limbs.
Somehow he impels himself onto the stage. Flavia’s enmeshed body begins to thrash in the cellophane as he draws closer and the sounds from the cello become ever more disturbing. Eventually, with almost imperceptible movements, they meet and she withdraws. Gradually Ezio is pushed offstage when, in a moment of what feels like shocking violence after all the restraint, Flavia begins to jump up and down as if to drive him into the earth. The two bodies fall off the side of the stage and we are invited to view them lying together in a heap against the wall.
Flavia Ghisalberti, Ezio Tangini and Frank Heierli have created a work that is both strange and disturbing in equal measures: it is impossible not to be affected.
Sitting on the stage after the performance, all three engage with the audience seeking to explain their work while emphasising that it is not something they consciously work at. There is a great deal of improvisation and they do not choreograph.
Flavia explained that the cellophane is not only an effective prop; it is light and easy to carry and while it is possible to say that the back room at the Sheephaven Bay wasn’t an ideal venue for Beings, the enforced intimacy contributed to a more intense atmosphere without the normal separation of audience and performers.
This is not the first Camden Fringe for In Between Butoh and hopefully they will be back – this is what fringe is all about. In the meantime, you can check out their website. If you get the chance to experience a butoh performance, do take it – I intend to.