Review: Embryotrophic Cavatina

Image of Barbara Bourget by Chris Randle

Kokoro dance’s Embryotrophic Catavina blends new and old in viscerally affecting ways. Watching the show is a deeply-felt personal experience. I liked the way it started. The dancers walked confidently onstage, the music flashed on, and the dancers began immediately to stand there and almost imperceptibly move downward. Because of the pace of the dance, there’s very little to do other than examine the dancers. All four are covered in white powder, wearing nothing but a sort of loincloth. Three of them have shaved heads, and one, Molly McDermott still has her hair, but it’s tied tightly to the top of her head. The two on the left are young, and the two on the right are old. Barbara, on the right, is so sincere in all her movement that you could just watch her the whole time and marvel at her ability to marry her feeling to the movement. Although the dance is very abstract, I could see her body’s need to make those movements. Barbara was having a true experience and we were invited to witness it. She has been doing dance for a while, so I’m not surprised to see the depth she brings. The younger dancers felt like they were sharing their emotions more actively with the audience, which is part of the style they bring to the dance. It’s something actors often do for theatre. When I interviewed Barbara , she spoke of the way the body naturally brings its other influences to butoh, and it was interesting to see it in action. They were both lithe and precise, and it was impressive to watch their ease in some sections, and also the way they interpreted the struggle that is often present in butoh. 

Image of Molly McDermott, Billy Marchenski, Barbara Bourget, and Jay Hirabayashi by Chris Randle

Jay, on the right, and in the back, had beautiful expression. Even when he was doing very little, you could see that in reality he was doing a lot. At one point in the second act he stands still for a long time, but you can see that there is a struggle going on within his body that causes it to tremble. There is something about what Jay does that my body recognizes. At the same time, his facial expressions have something of kabuki to them, which emphasizes his sincerity in a paradoxical way. And, speaking of acts. The dance doesn’t have a narrative, per se, but the effect it had on me was of an evolution of movement. In the first movement of the requiem (pardon the pun) the bodies in the space went from moving terribly slowly to making simple movements, some of which sparked repetition until some movements moved through the four dancers like a wave. In the second movement, the dancers wear dresses of blues and greens, while a series of paintings by Tsuneko Kokubo are projected on a giant screen behind them. The images are prosaic, but there is darkness in them. One image in particular hides corpses at the bottom in shadow, while the brighter half shows a joyful scene. Some of the dancers have lyrical solos that seem to burst spontaneously out of them, and here the marriage of western and eastern style is most visible.  

Image of Molly McDermott, Billy Marchenski, Jay Hirabayashi, and Barbara Bourget by Chris Randle

Part of what makes Embryotrophic Cavatina an experience is the white powder. That, coupled with the fact that the dancers are practically naked so that you can see the workings of their bodies in precise detail feels both invasive and endlessly fascinating as an audience member. The confidence with which the dancers stand there and perform these very precise movements is underlined by the mechanics of their bodies. I was left with an appreciation for my body’s movements in general since I could see the interwoven dance of muscles required for a single motion onstage.  

Image of Jay Hirabayashi and Barbara Bourget by Chris Randle

If you ever get a chance to see some butoh, go for it. It’s hard to explain in words. And Kokoro Dance serves Vancouver well, bringing new and old together to create a unique style, so check out their shows.

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