Breakin' the rules
Nicole LeGette curates a festival where B-boys and Butoh dancers share the stage
You may not think that break-dancers, with their gravity-defying, high-energy moves, have much in common with Butoh artists, whose slow-moving work often probes the darkest parts of the human psyche. As curator of a monthlong program of performances, panel discussions and public workshops, Nicole LeGette hopes to shed some light on their similarities. “The Body Breaks: Butoh, Breakdancing and Beyond” begins Friday 3.
LeGette, who once traveled to Japan to study Butoh at its source, first got the idea of bringing these two groups of dance artists together when she sat in on open-floor break-dancing sessions at the Spareroom, an arts space in Humboldt Park.
“I wouldn’t say that I am a break-dancer; I’m really not,” she admits. “But it became very clear to me that there was a relation between these two forms. Even though at the outset it seems like there’s a lot in contrast or even in friction…they actually share a lot of similarities.”
LeGette says that both dance forms foster a kind of antiestablishment rebelliousness. Although break dancing is regularly presented in mainstream dance venues, it first emerged as a competitive form of street dancing. “I believe that they exist as social and political statements against what is perceived as the norm or the status quo,” she says of the two genres.
The Chicago-based Brickheadz crew will present a classic battle, or one-on-one dance competition, Friday 3 to Sunday 5 at Links Hall. It’ll also open for Yumiko Yoshioka, who presents a new solo Butoh work, Before the Dawn, at the Chicago Cultural Center on March 16.
Butoh, an experimental form of dance that emerged in Japan after WWII, grew out of a different sort of underground movement. The first Butoh artists sought to deal with subject matter that was “considered dark or ugly, taboo or inappropriate,” LeGette explains, which “hadn’t really been presented in public before.”
Neither Butoh nor break dancing aspires to be pretty; instead, LeGette says, they make use of “the broken body, this idea where you actually bend the elbows and the knees and the wrists.” In these forms, LeGette adds, “the limbs are rarely fully extended, and if they are, it’s usually really pushing the extreme: hyperextending, looking like people are going to rip the arms out of their shoulders.
“I’m also bringing in what I am terming the beyond,” LeGette says. “Artists that are breaking out or bending the rules that define classic Butoh or classic break dancing.” For example, performer Carol Genetti won’t use her body at all. Known primarily as a vocalist, she will do a sound-based performance about disembodiment.
The “Body Breaks” also features the Chicago premiere of work by two international Butoh artists, Diego Piñón and Yoshioka, who both have pushed the dance form in new directions. Piñón studied Butoh in Japan with Kazuo Ohno and other masters before returning to his native Mexico and creating Butoh Ritual Mexicano, a new style infused with Mexican folk dance and ritual. Yoshioka, a Japanese artist based in Germany, continues to push the boundaries of Butoh in her work through collaborations with visual, sound and installation artists.
“I’m hoping by presenting these works together that not only the artists themselves but the audience will start to think about and experience the dance that they are viewing in a different light,” LeGette says. “I hope that it opens the door to viewing the body in all of its capacities.”
“The Body Breaks...” takes place at Links Hall and venues around the city from Friday 3 to Sunday 26. For details, visit www.linkshall.org.