Sunday, October 26, 2008
Butoh Collaboration and Mirror Neurons
"Leave them wanting more."
Thanks to Emily, here is a video of part of the performance. The thing Yasuchika does at the very end, that look, is so controlled, so intentional, and yet he moves almost like a puppet, like he is being controlled by another being. I think we all know that feeling! In fact, try watching this without any sound. It's even more powerful. (In Butoh, music isn't necessary.)
I'll post another video soon.
God, right now I am so exhausted. Not enough sleep? Probably. But maybe it’s because a huge presence, a huge event, has come and passed and it left an extraordinary, new w(hole) in my being. I'm infinitely more, and infinitely less, because it (and he) has passed. I guess that is true of every experience, though. Our brains are constantly changing; the river of life continues to grow. But some events are particularly meaningful, or exhausting, and they fill you up with more energy, more insight, and more appreciation for the Love and Life that is the One and All.
And thus, when they leave, they leave behind a (w)hole.
Maybe I'm having "unicorn withdrawal," as Emily describes it. Unicorns are very powerful beings, as you know, and when they vanish from you suddenly, they can take the wind out of your chest.
I'm catching my breath.
This ancient, holy tree (Goshinboku) enshrined in the mountains near my house, complete with a mysterious, nondenominational shrine/temple standing at its base, has been the subject of a few of my paintings, and so I thought I'd take Yasuchika, Ty, and Emily to see her early Saturday morning. The moss was super soft and smelled fresh, green-purple-orange. The atmosphere was brisk, light wind, and the light was crisp and cool. You can't hear it in these pictures but this tree is standing next to a rushing river made of fresh spring water you can drink, waterfalls, and emerald blue swimming holes. There is a beehive next to the tree as well.
The exhibition went great. I sold two large paintings and a bunch of prints. I received support and love and positive feedback from my community, and I got some very powerful criticism from one of my oldest friends (I’ll write more about that later). Some of my students came, with their friends or with their parents. I said at school that I would buy them a drink if they came, so I did.
The Butoh collaboration went well too! We sold out again (pride not intended), filling all forty seats in the gallery. Yasuchika danced like a medicine man, like a centaur, pulling everyone into an ambiguous space of emotional freedom and fullness. At the end he was shouting and slapping the ground in joy. People came up to me afterwards and said, “The end made me really happy,” and that, my friends, is power. And it’s what performers, actors, shamans (and all of us, for this matter) do, right? We enter into certain states of consciousness and then because of the brain’s “mirror neurons”, we immediately pull our audience into a similar state. The interesting question becomes: What happens when the performer has experienced states that the general public has not? What happens when the performer has trained for hours everyday, when the pianist or shaman or artist can enter into these ecstatic states, states that the audience’s mind and body have not yet experienced? What happens then? The mirror neurons in the viewer's brain will do their thing, but the interpreter, the mind of the individual has no experience with the state. They can't label it, can't identify it. The viewer might feel a bit awkward-they don't like that their body and mind can't accurately interpret this new stimuli, this new state, and so they might close down any connection or desire to connect. "This is weird" or, "This is stupid."
But in our case, partially because of Yasuchika’s intense level of physical beauty, and with his radiant mental beauty shining though his every motion, there was enough familiarity and general attraction to keep every mind interested (I would look up periodically from making music and see all forty pairs of twinkling eyes locked onto Yasuchika's state. I don't think anyone blinked during the entire performance. I think everyone let him right in.)
His body holds people’s attention like a magnet, and then the secret states are passed unobstructed into the viewer, changing them forever. There might be healing involved. He might be dancing with our souls, giving them a safe space to open and just be, deeply and fully. Like a shaman, maybe he travels into the dark, unfamiliar worlds and places that we all have within us. The shaman goes there and then comes back. He becomes our guide. He takes us there, and protects us. We mirror him as he shines. And "everything light touches becomes light." Is observing a shamanic dance a radical inner-energy change, a ripping open of boundaries and emotional barriers we had built up inside? Is this a burning up of fear, a fear of visiting the dark, uncharted waters of our emotional and mental worlds? (We all have uncharted territory in the depths of our being, and art can validate these inner, shared, (mythic) worlds. And this validation I think is immediately also supporting and encouraging our will to exist freely and fully within these states. It's like a Big Mind process using body language to become all the different voices. Does this heal the self? I think so. ("If you are no longer afraid of death, you are healed.")
The shaman heals himself, the observer gets an opportunity to heal themselves too. They can go there with the shaman, no, they do go there with the shaman whether they interpret it that way or not, because wherever the dancer goes, the viewer goes. That's just mirror neurons; the "mirror system," empathy, it's how perception works, how reception works, mutual resonance, mutual understanding...it's unavoidable/understandable. But the fact that artists usher us into states carries with it implications so far out (that stimuli can get in our heads that way, reflected onto the inner screens of our innermost private space, well, it's not to far away from psychic powers, astral planes, and mind-reading. 'Turns out everyone can put thoughts into people's heads because of subtle resonance and body language. Even our thoughts are registered and can be measured in the physical realm. There is a connection.
And there is an Art of Communication, an art of perfecting the process of influencing the inner minds and worlds of others, and it is taken seriously in many artsy circles. It's the "responsibility" side of the street, and I for one..sorry, this is getting too mysty. Back to my original story...
I wish you could have been there.
This year’s collaboration was completely different from last year’s. For example, because Yasuchika arrived on Wednesday, we had about four days together to practice and play (!). Also, he suggested that from the beginning everything be out in the open, informal, “like a street performance.” He said, “I want something to already be happening when people arrive. I want them to feel like “Oh, something is already happening, we better hurry in and see what’s going on.” Thus, as opposed to staying hidden away in a back room until show time, we talked with the guests as they arrived, danced around, made people laugh…for a while Yasuchika drummed and I danced!! A 20 minute piece by Milford Graves (formless, chaotic jazz) played in the background, and then, when 7:00 came and the music stopped, I walked over to the drum, sat down, closed my eyes, and began. Some people were still talking, a sign that they felt relaxed and didn't know when the performance was going to start (little did they know, it had started 20 minutes ago). While singing I felt a comfort and confidence I didn't expect (probably because I had just made a total fool out of myself, dancing and singing like a tribal maniac with Yasuchika.)
While I worked the singing bowl and sang into it like I do alone in my room, he turned down the lights, got into position, and began his thing…The recorded music I mixed was timed to come in about two minutes after the welcoming music stopped. This recorded music, which begins with light drumming, radio sounds, and Paramahansa Yogananda chanting the Om and Amen slid quietly into the room, under my singing bowl, and into the audience, who sat wide-eyed and open to everything we were passing into them. Like I said, I would periodically look up from making music to see Yasuchika dancing in the light, and 40 pairs of eyes fixed in wonder onto his form. And it was beautiful.
More or less later.
Posted by David at 8:53 AM
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