Maro in “Symphony M.” Photo by Nobuyoshi Araki.
The four suit-clad cynical undertakers perpetually wait for death with their scrutinizing flashlights.
The followers, their naked bodies painted in white, twisted red cords of umbilical cords dangling from their heads, crack their whips in merciless sadism.
And the troupe’s leader Maro Akaji _ the corpse, the mother, the imbecile _
softly fluttering his sinewy arms in the dark silence like a deformed but beautiful swan, confronts his own death and the legacy of Butoh in his “Symphony M.”
The work, his first piece centered around his solos in seven years, had a four-day run this month at Setagaya Public Theater in Tokyo.)
DAIRAKUDAKAN pieces are often filled with kitsch references to pop culture and everyday life.
The latest work is more stark, almost devoid of the usual musical score.
Stomps, the hiss of falling sand and the breaths of the dancers are what we hear.
At the opening, a rope that looks like a chain of fossilized bones and a mirror are the only props.
Often, Maro, 65, leaves much of the dancing to the younger members, and makes his appearance to mainly deliver his presence _ his energy and his message.
In this piece, he dances.
And what a dance it is _ in one moment, writhing on the floor in a painful muscular tension that defies disease and death a la Hijikata, in another, sputtering nonsensical lines as he shuffles from one dancer to another examining their poses in befuddlement.
Ultimately, the piece is all about the relationship of the artist with the future _ Maro’s complex but totally honest relationship with his dancers _ not just the dancers who accompanied him on that stage but also all the dancers and non-dancers everywhere.
It is a testament to that relationship _ and his success as troupe leader, master and teacher _ to witness how his 14 male back-up dancers are all very strong and in superb form.
They deliver so completely Maro’s choreography in both technique and spirit.
In one scene, Maro acts as a commander for his dancers, soldiers standing at attention in line.
When he shouts his final order, the dancers crumble in unison, trembling and mumbling at once, transformed into the trademark Butoh style.
It is a perfect moment _ an expression of defiance and integrity in choreographed stupor.
In the closing sequence, Maro dies, his arms outstretched like Christ, at the center of a white cube of nothingness and the eternal universe.
The dancers arduously roll that box around on the stage like the mission they are inheriting from their teacher.
But as Maro dies, he also gives birth, his face contorted in a muted scream, his legs open to the audience and to the world.
And he gives us himself, a Buoth legend.