With his Unbearable Darkness, Singapore-born choreographer and new media artist Choy Ka Fai transports spectators beyond time and space at the Romaeuropa Festival, staging a glowing multimedia ceremony with choreographer Tatsumi Hijikata, founder of Butoh dance, who died in 1986. It is a performance – elaborated between 2016 and 2018 – that, through the use of muscle movement sensors, connects the body of the performer on stage (Yurika Yamamoto) with that of her 3D avatars projected onto the backdrop, but also a kind of séance in which a medium (Tomoko Inoue) makes paranormal contact with the Japanese master.
The medium is seated on the floor with crossed legs, has blind pupils, accompanies her ritual with archaic sounds of ‘rattles’ and liturgical bells, and expresses herself with a chant in Japanese, in the altered voice of the master Tatsumi Hijikata. The latter is the inventor of Butoh, a subversive, mysterious and obscure dance form – now widespread in various forms, especially in the West – which in the 1950s fused the bodily elements of Japanese theatre with the liberating forms of European expressionist dance.
That of Butoh is a body that contorts and distorts, performing a ritual of liberation, but Choy Ka Fai in this performance makes it capable of transcending real space and time, transporting movement, through sensors, from the human body to that of the avatar and vice versa. On the backdrop-screen, the dance of each avatar is introduced by an overlay card that makes explicit, with the scientific information of a database archive, the consistency of the avatar dancer: his years, the period in which he lived, and his sources of cultural and artistic inspiration.
The cards might suggest that the avatar is a representation, a virtual double of the performer, but careful observation reveals the mystery: it is the dancer’s body that repeats the movements of each avatar, shaken in the muscle tissue by the electrical stimulators she wears on her joints. The real body is controlled by the avatar, just as the medium transmits, from beyond, the voice of Tatsumi Hijikata. A century ago Darwin, with his studies on electrodes applied to facial muscles had anticipated this, but now the technology extends to the whole body, even to the hypothesis of total control of body movements, through an artificial choreography.
Choy Ka Fai, Unbearable Darkness al Digitalive (a cura di Federica Patti), Romaeuropa Festival 2023
images: Choy Ka Fai, Unbearable Darkness, Digitalive, Romaeuropa Festival 2023