Telling ghost stories through dance

  • Arts
  • Friday, 06 Jun 2014

Playfully artful: Fox Spirits play a large role in Japanese choreographer Yukio Waguri’s piece Reminiscence: The World Of The Strange Tales, as he finds foxes to be the link between Chinese and Japanese folklore.

Classic Chinese ghost stories find a perfect fit, being told through the Butoh dance form.

Ghost stories, fox spirits and Butoh dance, oh my!

Kuala Lumpur-based dance troupe Soubi Sha’s upcoming performance, Reminiscence: The World Of The Strange Tales, is set to tell ancient Chinese supernatural stories through the medium of Japanese dance form Butoh.

The dance, which was on tour through Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong, will be making its Malaysian debut at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) next weekend.

In Malaysia, Soubi Sha – formed in 2012 – is a relatively new local Butoh group that is tied to cross-cultural programmes, notably Japan Foundation KL.

Before working with Soubi Sha, Japanese choreographer Yukio Waguri, based in Tokyo, made it a point to perform Reminiscence in China. The show is based on Strange Stories From A Chinese Studio, a book collection of some 500 supernatural folk tales written during the Qing Dynasty.

“It was a big challenge doing a Chinese story in China when you are Japanese, especially with such a famous piece of literature. Of course, I worked with local dance troupes there,” says Waguri during a recent interview at KLPac.

The lean dancer, who looks much younger than his age (62), alternated between English and Japanese as he spoke about the subject that has captured his imagination for half a decade.

Waguri became obsessed with this Chinese literary collection when he obtained a copy which contained some 70 stories translated in Japanese. For four years, Waguri scanned through the text, tracking down “scenes” which could be translated into dance.

The Tokyo native reveals his fascination for Strange Stories stemmed from the frequent mention of fox spirits, a common feature in Japanese folklore too.

He points out how foxes feature throughout Japanese performing arts (from actors dressed as fox spirits in Noh theatre and Kabuki to fox puppets in Kabuki). He mentions that the most senior role in Kyogan comedy is that of a fox.

Fox Spirits having fun, dancing through the forest on a moonless night.

“For the author to collect so many stories about madness, he too must have been a little mad. Perhaps he had Kitsunetsuki (a state of possession by a fox spirit),” adds Waguri.

He believes that madness is an intrinsic part of Butoh, as dancers have to create an illusion of being mad.

“Say you have a dream where you’re a piece of glass. You are worried you could break if you so much as bump into a table. If you wake up and still think you’re glass, that’s madness!

“Dancers have to keep up that illusion. They have to believe they’re still ‘glass’ and fear they can be broken right till the end of the show.”

Quoting his master, Butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata, Waguri calls the Butoh art form: “a system to go back to humanity.”

“Butoh is a simulation of madness, and you come back to real life after. If you don’t practice Butoh, you can fall into madness.”

Waguri will be working with Soubi Sha’s founder Yeow Lai Chee to bring this simulated madness on stage in Kuala Lumpur. The show will also use a projector, traditional Japanese music and 13 dancers (including Waguri and Lai Chee).

Reminiscence is part of Butoh Season 2014, organised by Soubi Sha, Japan Foundation KL and Tunku Abdul Rahman University College.

Programmes running this year also include Butoh exhibitions, workshops, lectures by international professors, a two-day conference and a solo showcase by veteran Japanese dancers.

These main Butoh programmes will run this weekend at the Tun Tan Siew Sin Building’s Auditorium, Tunku Abdul Rahman University College, Jalan Genting Kelang in Kuala Lumpur, while the Reminiscence showcases roll out next weekend at KLPac.

Reminiscence: The World Of The Strange Tales will run on June 13 and June 14 at Pentas 2, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac), Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur. Showtime: 8.30pm. Tickets are priced at RM53 (adults) and RM25 (students, senior citizens, disabled). Tickets can be booked through or by calling the KLPac Box office (03-4047 9000) or Lai Chee (010-428 9528). All Butoh Season 2014 programmes at Tunku Abdul Rahman University College are free, except the Butoh Workshop (RM30) and solo showcase (RM20 for adults, and RM10 for students, disabled and seniors). Contact Chin Kwee Lin at (013-390 3235) or to book.

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