Kokoro Dance's Embryotrophic Cavatina suspends time and enters the indefinable

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      The Japanese dance-theatre form butoh can be intense. Intense for the performer, who cycles through a range of emotional expressions throughout a production, as well as for the viewer, who watches dutifully as this usually slow, nonlinear, and imagistic performance unfolds.

      It’s an approach to dance that is hard to define because it’s no one thing. Its ambiguity is part of what makes it powerful, which can also be part of what makes it challenging. 

      On September 20, the city’s resident butoh-inspired dance company, Kokoro Dance, premiered its new work Embryotrophic Cavatina. This full-length quartet has reportedly been 20 years in the making, something choreographers and directors Jay Hirabayashi and Barbara Bourget started in response to an at times haunting but otherwise powerful orchestral score by cinematic Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner.

      The first part of the evening is called “Requiem” and features Hirabayashi and Billy Marchenski at the back of the stage with Bourget and Molly McDermott at the front. The four are nearly naked (save for the skin-tone thongs), covered in butoh’s signifying white powder, and look statuesque as they move slowly through a variety of expansive and minute shapes, each at their own pace and intensity.


      It’s tempting to compare the dancers as they move through similar sequences. The beauty comes in observing their differences. It’s here that something is revealed, as though suspended in time, each performer is embodying his or her own reality. For Hirabayashi, that reality is of a man in his 70s who has had a career of studying this form and a life of experiences to draw from. His jumps are lower and he only ever hints at back bends, but the emotional range he accesses is stunning and stands out on-stage. McDermott, on the other hand, is much younger and filled with energy and an expansive physical range—her emotional response comparatively less nuanced, but never any less authentic.


      The second part of the evening is called “Life” and is introduced by the projected paintings of costume designer and artist Tsuneko Kokubo. The projections revolve through a series by Kokubo called "Plant Memory"—all featuring very colourful but abstract plants. The movement vocabulary is amplified now and the dancers move freely throughout the space. Having changed to silky dresses with plant-life patterns, each explores his or her own solo with individualistic focus.


      It’s this focus that prevented the piece from becoming something more than four solos next to each other. Overlapping solos can often take on new forms, as accidental duets, or a contrasting trio, but those moments were hardly found because the dancers were so inside their own worlds.


      Each performer alone was a wonder to watch but something bigger was missing between them all. And this missing link prevented “Life” from transforming into something new. That was, at least, my experience—and the beauty of this indefinable art form is that it could be different for you.