Throughout its history, art has always reacted to the key events in the world. Every situation of crisis leads to some shifts in people’s lives. Moreover, catastrophic accidents take lives and ruin families, leaving indelible imprints in history. Such a disaster happened in Japan in 2011, when a massive earthquake destroyed a big part of the territory causing fatal outcomes for many. The choreographers at Phantom Limb Company commemorated that horrible page in Japan’s history with a dancing performance under the title “Falling Out.”
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It is a masterful combination of the theme of earthquake and tsunami and a dramatic theme of breaking up, where love, death, and fate intertwine. The choreographers created a masterpiece that resembles an intersection of the Japanese slow butoh dancing style and a rhythmic and impulsive flex dance complemented with puppet theatre. The theatrical performance embraces diversity in styles and themes to deliver the message of death and loss under the crucial power of Mother Nature that a human cannot withstand.
Fukushima Events as the Background for Artistic Work
The aftermath of an event that shook the world is still relevant. On March 11, 2011, in Japan, there was one of the strongest earthquakes in the history of the country, which killed 18 thousand people and led to the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power station (Iwata-Weickgenannt and Geilhorn 18). Thousands of victims were buried under the ruins of buildings. It was one of the major nuclear disasters in the world that forced more than one hundred thousand people to leave their homes. The amount of accurate data collected upon the disaster enabled getting a full picture of the past events (Iwata-Weickgenannt and Geilhorn 25).
It also illustrated the magnitude of the accident, as well as the impact it had on the people of Japan. The understanding of the fatal events enabled the creators of “Falling Out” to seek for the possible ways to manifest the theme of fate and death. They utilized diverse dancing styles and staging techniques to render the perception of human life in its collision with natural forces.
Butoh as a Unique Dancing Style
The core of this choreographic performance is a Japanese butoh dancing style. It originated not long after the World War II and is a contemporary Japanese dancing style combining “a variety of styles from folk dances and traditional dance-drama genres” to ballet, modern, and postmodern dance (“Butoh” 17). Throughout the history of its existence, butoh has gone through different stylistic phases and developed into its modern form.
The most influential wave in this dance was Hijikata’s butoh that used “emaciated bodies,” pale make-up, shaved heads, and kimono costumes, which all created an overall mysterious performance (“Butoh” 17). Later, Kasai incorporated eurhythmics into butoh, making it a complete form with a distinctive shape and movements (“Butoh” 18). The contemporary version of this dancing style embraces these two major waves and is capable of rendering emotion and tragedy on the stage.
Flex Dance Features
Contrary to butoh, flexing represents a new more rhythmic dancing form. It has originated as a street dance and has distinctive features embodied in sudden movements of the body. It is a “rough and immediate” dance form with the elements of “stop motion” that contrast with the butoh style to a great extent (“Making Falling Out: BAM 2018 Next Wave Festival” 00:02:30-00:02:35). The confidence of a dancer in flexing gives a lot of opportunities to show the power of natural forces and their ability to influence people. Thus, it was a great contribution to this dancing performance that allowed the choreographers to show the collision of men and nature.
The Combination of Butoh, Puppets, and Flex Dance in “Falling Out”
The choice of dancing styles and theatrical staging techniques in “Falling Out” made the achievement of the creators’ ultimate goal possible. The combination of slow butoh motions with sudden and rough movements of flex dance resembled the unity of opposites. The emotional background of the tsunami and earthquake aftermath is a central element interpreted by butoh dancers on the stage. The theme of a couple falling out of love reflects the ending of the relationship between men and nature. Thus, slow dancing movements of the butoh form emphasize the depths of feelings and emotions.
According to Phantom Limb theatre artist Jessica Grindstaff, butoh is a unique dance form “capable of capturing and inhabiting intense loss” (“Making Falling Out: BAM 2018 Next Wave Festival” 00:01:13-00:01:20). It explores the theme of death and concentrates on the human body as material. It is masterfully integrated into the theme of the struggle between human nature and Mother Nature, where a human is nothing else but powerless material.
From this point of view, the vulnerability of human nature is emphasized with the help of puppetry. Puppets constitute a significant part of the performance, resembling the unprotected nature of a human. Complemented with visual effects, puppets connect with the dancing actors, creating a unified relationship between them. Dancers are “merely the agents” of puppets’ movements which makes puppets leading actors of the performance (Aldrich).
Such an approach makes spectators feel empathy toward the puppets and reflect on the meaning of life and its fragile features. Moreover, the idea is emphasized with the introduction of the opposing flex dance style. The quick movements of dancers’ bodies in the flexing style resemble a puppet-like performance, which is a masterful amplification of the idea of relativity of power in “Falling Out.”
Being the third part in a trilogy of dancing performances created by Phantom Limb Company, “Falling Out” concentrates on the environmental issues of the modern world and raises awareness of humans’ responsibility for their actions. The struggle between humanity and nature will always be won by the latter – that is the message the creators are trying to send. Although the idea is delivered tragically and emotionally, the creators leave hope as a final element of the performance, emphasizing the need to make a change and to be attentive and caring in life.
In conclusion, the Phantom Limb Company’s “Falling Out” is a performance manifesting the power of Mother Nature over the humanity in a broad sense, which is delivered with the help of rendering the story of the earthquake in Japan, in 2011. The theme of death and tragic loss is interpreted in the form of Japanese butoh dance that utilizes slow and emotional motions of dancers. In opposition to it, flexing with its sudden and rough movements delivers the message of power and influence. These two forms are intertwined with the help of puppetry, symbolizing the fragile essence of a human body in its struggle against the powers of nature.
Aldrich, Mishael W. “OZ Arts, Phantom Limb Explore Human Toll of Fukushima Disaster with ‘Falling Out’.” Tennessean. 2018. Web.
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“Butoh.” The International Encyclopedia of Dance. Vol. 2, 2004.
Iwata-Weickgenannt, Kristina, and Barbara Geilhorn. “Negotiating Nuclear Disaster.” Fukushima and the Arts: Negotiating Nuclear Disaster, edited by Barbara Geilhorn and Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt, Routledge, 2016, pp. 18-35.
“Making Falling Out: BAM 2018 Next Wave Festival.” YouTube, uploaded by BAMorg. 2018. Web.