Dance Me Crazy

By and

“I was arrested for doing butoh on the street a few years ago and sent to a mental hospital for a day,” said recent integrated arts graduate Arwen Ek.

“I was easily misunderstood, perhaps, on the sidewalk of downtown Salt Lake City for an escaped convalescent,” she said. “I was completely painted white from head to toe and wrapped in a red fabric.”

Part of what audiences will see in “MU,” Ek’s one-woman butoh production, originates from her memorable street-performance-turned-run-in-with-the-law that took place more than four years ago.

“MU” is the culmination and thesis project for the unique study program that she designed for herself while at the U. With theater faculty member Jerry Gardner as her adviser, Ek now calls the theater department her “home,” where she is able to focus in this stylized form of Japanese dance.

But it did not start as that.

Initially, Ek was a modern dance major. After pursuing this creative outlet for one-and-a-half years, she found herself in the theater department taking a Zen and Eastern theater class.

“Then I met Jerry Gardner and decided that I had to train and study with him, no matter what,” Ek said.

The exchange was simple yet powerful in its subtlety. Ek told Gardner she was a modern dancer, and he said to her, “You, come to butoh.” During that first day of class, Ek had begun what she described as “the beginning of the end” in her involvement with butoh.

Ek’s “MU” is named after a koan, a riddle in Zen Buddhism, which she described as something “intended to trick the mind into a non-conceptual state.” In practicing Zen, a student would be questioned, “What is MU?” and then be expected to ponder the meaning of the question for several months.

In a fusion of Japanese movement and theater forms, Ek admits that “MU” contains traces of Western dance.

“It inevitably incorporates my background as a modern dancer — I can’t get it out of my body,” she said.

“In many ways, ‘MU’ is a retelling of my personal journey and can be interpreted on many levels,” she said, echoing Gardner’s reminders to Ek that “all art is personal.”

Assistant director to “MU” and actor training program senior Logan Black added, “It’s not so much about the story that the particular individual dancer is telling. It’s more important what the audience sees. Hopefully everyone sees a completely different story that is somehow ingrained within them.”

Originating in Japan during the 1950s, the butoh art form has since spread all over the world, creating “its own creature,” Ek said.

Given the invitation to return to the birthplace of butoh, Gardner is invited to perform at the international butoh festival in Tokyo later this year and will bring with him a select number of students, Ek and Black included.

“Fifteen butoh dancers from around the world have been invited to participate,” Black said.

Although invited artists span the globe from Iceland to South America, some members of the butoh community believe the art should be exclusively practiced among the Japanese.

“There’s still a debate whether butoh should be specifically a Japanese art form that only the Japanese people can truly accomplish, or if there’s something more fundamental about it that we can all share and experience,” Ek said.

Ek said she finds irony in this, because “even the founders in butoh were trained in Western modern dance — they did German expressionism, ballet and mime that they learned from the European artists who came into Japan in the early ’20s and ’30s,” she said.

When asked of her personal opinion on the practice of butoh, Ek responded with her own statement worthy of profound contemplation: “Butoh reaches deeply into something so fundamental to our humanity that it can’t be contained in one culture or one time.”

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April 24 to April 26 @ 7:30 p.m.

Studio 115, Performing Arts Building

(West of the University Campus Store)

Tickets available at the door or through Kingsbury Ticket Office at 581-7100

$9 general admission, $7 U faculty/staff, $5 students

*Not suitable for audiences younger than 14