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June 8, 2010

UMS Staff Picks: Sankai Juku selected by Lisa Murray, Manager of Foundation & Government Grants

By Stephanie Normann

Sankai Juku

Welcome to the first in a series of weekly summer blog posts called “UMS Staff Picks”. These posts will feature my interviews with UMS staff members in which they discuss the event they are most excited for on the 10/11 season. I hope you enjoy this “behind-the-scenes” look at each event and the UMS staff member that chose it!


SN: Sankai Juku will be performing a dance style known as butoh – what is butoh? What can audience members expect to see at this performance?

LM: First off, amateur alert:  I’m a very enthusiastic dance viewer, but I’m not an expert in the least.  I hope others who know a lot more about dance will chime in and correct or augment what I’m writing. 

From what I know, butoh is a dance style that originated in Japan after World War II and was in part a response to the horrors of that war.  It’s a form of modern dance where certain kinds of movement are given particular emphasis, including movement that might be considered grotesque or ugly.  Sometimes the dancers move VERY slowly; sometimes they isolate their movement down to what looks like a single muscle of the body; some butoh dancers contort their faces into grimaces that are truly frightening.  Like a lot of modern dance, there’s not a story being told per se.  It’s up to the viewer to make of it what they will. 

If I were inviting a friend to come see the performance with me, I would first make sure to choose someone who is up for a little adventure or intensity.  My husband, for instance, has gamely sat through many different performances by my side, but I don’t know if I can persuade him to come see Sankai Juku with me.  Plus if I do convince him, there’s the risk I might end up seeing a Van Halen reunion concert or something like that in exchange…we’ll see. 

Lisa Murray

SN: Have you seen a performance by Sankai Juku before?

LM: I haven’t seen Sankai Juku yet, but I think I’ve seen every other butoh performance UMS has presented over the past several years, and I’ve enjoyed them all immensely.  One favorite was Dairakudakan, an ensemble with a style of butoh that veers toward the grotesque and unsettling…I still think about that performance.  I also loved Eiko and Koma, a couple with a more quiet, graceful sensibility and a strong affinity between their art and the natural world.  They performed in the Huron River (literally), and their movements were so incredibly slow that my sense of time was completely distorted.  It was amazing to watch.  Even though I haven’t seen Sankai Juku before, I’ve heard great things about them, and I know their performance will be memorable.

SN: What are you most looking forward to about this performance?

LM: I love butoh performances.  For me, the total effect is haunting and completely mesmerizing.  For others, I realize, the slowness of the pace might be a little hard to sit through.  Anyone who sees them, though, will be blown away by the technique of the dancers.  It takes an enormous amount of control to make your body move that slowly.  I also love artists, like Sankai Juku, who are thoughtful and have a certain vision and then take that vision to the nth degree in their art.  Not only do they let their freak flag fly, they grab their flag and walk down the middle of the street with it for everyone to see.  I appreciate the courage it must take to make their art and then invite the rest of us along to experience it.

SN: What other events are on your “must see” list for the 10/11 season?

LM: I’m really looking forward to the concert with Jordi Savall and his early music ensembles.  You might not think that ‘thrilling’ and ‘early music’ would go together in a sentence, but they make it happen!  There’s also Renée Fleming, Cripple of Inishmaan, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Laurie Anderson…it’s a long list.

SN: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

LM: I actually have a second job outside of UMS, working as an unpaid chauffeur for a young child and all of her after-school activities.  There’s not much time beyond that.  I think my husband and I went to see a movie a few years back.  That was fun.

SN: What have you been listening to on your iPod?

LM: My child employer has become a big fan of Frank Sinatra.  I don’t know how or why it happened, but I’m enjoying the opportunity to get re-acquainted with the Great American Songbook.

We’d love to hear from you about any experiences you have had with Sankai Juku or another butoh dance company.


Stephanie is the Marketing Manager at UMS and has been with the organization for four seasons. She is also a member of the UMS Choral Union.
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