We welcome Michael Sakamoto and Rennie Harris to our stage March 31, April 1 & 2, performing their butoh-hip hop duet entitled Flash. Below please enjoy Peter Carpenter’s program notes, introducing this work to our audiences. We hope to see you at The Dance Center for this remarkable performance!
Flash, by Rennie Harris and Michael Sakamoto, looks at the body as a site of crisis and contradiction. Conceived as a public conversation between the artists and their respective forms—hip hop and butoh—this transcultural experiment looks for connections between African-American and Japanese-American identities and finds common ground in their artistic responses to traumatic experiences.
In the autobiographical solos within Flash, individual childhood traumas—ranging from the continuous menace of helicopters in the militarized police state of Los Angeles to experiences with violence and molestation—are represented through the sound design, voice over text, and within the sometimes grotesque contortions of the body. In this context, the introduction of American popular songs highlights the social displacement of their cultural experience in contrast to the mainstream.
While the commingling of butoh and hip hop may seem unusual to some, both are contemporary forms associated with resistance to conservative social norms. Hip hop developed in the 1970s in New York City in African American, Latino, and Afro-Caribbean neighborhoods; butoh began to gain visibility in Japan a decade earlier. Beyond the geographic and aesthetic differences, both forms are rebellious, socially challenging, and require holistic immersion (one does not “do” butoh, rather one becomes a butoh dancer, and similar values of immersion circulate in hip hop). Both have connotations to danger. Both have become global phenomena.
As evidence of the potential synchronicity between butoh and hip hop, March 2016 marked the 10-year anniversary of a pivotal Chicago festival, The Body Breaks: Butoh, Breakdancing, and Beyond, curated by Nicole LeGette for Links Hall. The Body Breaks brought together contemporary artists working in the two forms for a month of performances, workshops and public discussions. From this vantage point, Sakamoto and Harris continue not only in the ongoing development of their respective forms, but also in a distinctive coalition between butoh and hip hop that may be familiar to some Chicago audiences.
Flash provides us with a unique opportunity to witness the conversation between these cultures and these artists as they engage the body in crisis. We invite you to witness the remarkable representation of human experience that arises at the convergence of these potent dance forms.
Peter Carpenter, Ph.D.
Acting Chair of Dance