the full of life is infinite

(For Thomas, whose seat I sat in when his travel plans conflicted with his tickets to see the Butoh troupe Sankai Juku on Tuesday, and thank you dear Ashley for the invitation to sit there!)

Lotus Leaves
"Inspired by the meeting with Mr. Riho Senba, the headmaster of the "koryushooukai" school of Ikebana (the art of Japanese flower arrangement)"

~from the program notes of Kagemi: Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors

The Kage of Kagemi is shadow
The light of contrast, the image in the mirror of water's surface
mi is seeing and being seen

Some say
Kagemi is the ancient origin of "mirror" (kagemi)

In light, the surface that reflects and is reflected, looked into and looking back

Surface beginning in the horizontal water plane and transforming to the perpendicular face

From an ambiguous and transient state to one clearly outlined

The right hand asks, the left hand answers

Once an imaginary sur-face is defined

~Amagatsu Ushio, Sankai Juku founder, Director, Choreographer and Designer.

The day after the performance, a friend who had also been there said that a difference between modern dance and butoh is that in modern dance the choreographer and dancer will observe a tree or water, and create movement that evokes tree or water; in butoh the dancer becomes tree, or water.

The act of watching becomes a visceral act. Being lulled by the endlessly slow drift of an arm or a leg. In trance and then restless as bodies shift in complex patterns, none of it comprehensible to the mind. So much happens in the lift of the eyelids, in the shapes of the fingers carried like upturned claws or tipped in blood-red paint, in the expressionless mask broken suddenly open in hilarity or howl (which? or both?). Even the faint white clouds arising as the powdered bodies of the dancers quickly cross the stage contribute to the stunning scene. The final image felt too like waves falling, rising: the luminous leaves lowered down to the stage again (where they were at the beginning hovering just above the floor), the dancers reclining on the floor between the descended stems, then lying down as the lights dim. The tiny spotlights on hands rising above the surface of the leaves, fingers alive like birds or blossoms breaking bud.

I Wind in the Water Depths
II MANEBI -- two mirrors
III Echoing of gaze and return gaze
IV In the light by the waterside
V Infinite dialogue
VI Empty / Full
VII CHIRAL / ACHIRAL, Agitation and Sedimentation

Then, on Sunday my 16 year old son and I went to see BODIES: The Exhibition (choosing to go at probably the most crowded time possible), which he has wanted to see since it opened.

Like the intensely expressive. perfectly formed, dancers' bodies, these bodies were amazing, too -- impeccably, exquisitely dissected human cadavers (not without controversy, see here), preserved with a kind of silicone polymer that arrests decay and hardens the tissues. A number of the bodies are posed in athletic gestures, diving to dig a volleyball or poised to shoot a basketball or arm stretched overhead to serve a tennis ball. Others are simply seated or standing to display something particular such as the layers of the spinal cord, or muscle and joint layers. The most mind-boggling to me (having spent many hours during the first year of medical school in dissection lab and knowing how easy it is to do an awful job of it) were the entirely dissected-out, lifted from the rest of the body, nervous system and circulatory systems (arteries and veins). There are also displays of organs both healthy and diseased (no matter how many times I see it, it is always shocking to see lungs that are black from years of smoking, compared with normal lungs that are greyish pink with spots of black from pollution -- spots we've all got, so that "normal" and "healthy" might not be exactly the same thing...)

The choices of what to remove and what to leave were a little curious, I thought -- faces were dissected to remove most of the skin and connective tissue, but eyelids and lips and ears were left, and sometimes fingertips and genitalia, so that you did have a sense of the someone who wore this body at one time. By leaving those features, the bodies definitely looked like people, not just like generalized human specimens.

It is interesting to me that these actual viscera didn't have a visceral effect on me, fathoms away from the internal movement stirred by the living, moving butoh dancers' bodies.

Also interesting to me is that all of these bodies are Asian bodies like mine (except that all of the dancers and most of the cadaver specimens are male), so that the surface of what I was seeing was maybe a little bit more mirror-like for me than it might have been. At one point I heard a woman in the Bodies exhibition say something like, "well, he still looks like the chinaman that he was" and I turned around to stare, surprised to hear a term I haven't heard for decades, but I couldn't tell who had said it (it really was crowded there!). The warmth of the crowd and the buzz of conversation and exclamations, as we milled around the exhibits in our own self-organized choreography, generated a current of liveliness that both encompassed and contrasted with the formerly-alive. My son and I noticed and sometimes shared people's reactions of fascination, wonder, revulsion, wistfulness, reverence, and even a resistance to being amazed ("they're just dead bodies, what's the big deal?" ~overheard while standing in the line to get in)

Sankai Juku's Amagatsu-san points to: the surface that reflects and is reflected, looked into and looking back
"Kagemi" explores what happens behind mirrors, said founder and artistic director Ushio Amagatsu, speaking in Japanese through an interpreter by phone from Tokyo. The performance begins by using the surface of water as a mirror, he said. "It's real, but not real."

Seven scenes contrast life and death, ash and blood, sand and water. Knowing about death allows you to realize what kind of life you can live, Amagatsu said. "If you think about yourself, there's a beginning and an end, but the full of life is infinite." In other words, individual lives emerge and disappear, but human life is continuous.
~The Seattle Times
Not only human life, but just life, the one life, pouring through the exquisiteness of all of these individual forms; the more forms we see, the more we may see our self, looking back at us.