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Dance brings together Lebanese photographer with Japanese painter

Moukarzel captured the essence of Sakabe’s “butoh.”

BEIRUT: What could cause a Lebanese photographer and a Japanese painter to collaborate?

In this case the answer is dance. This is the challenging project facing Lebanese photographer Roger Moukarzel and Japanese painter Takayoshi Sakabe whose collective work will be up at Alice Mogabgab Gallery starting Oct. 2.

The second edition of “Du Proche a L’Extreme: la rencontre des Orients” (From the Near to the Far: the Meeting of the Easts) displays Moukarzel’s photographs of Sakabe performing the Asian “butoh” dance.

In Jan. 2012, the first edition of this artistic gathering featured the paintings of Belgian painter Pascal Courcelles who presented his vision of Lebanon during his stay in the country.

This year, Lebanese viewers will have the opportunity to witness – through photography – a poignant artistic collaboration, which provides a better understanding of a dance hardly known in the country.

The “butoh” – also known as “ankoku-buto,” meaning “dance of darkness” – appeared in Japan in the 1960s. But Sakabe explained – in an email conversation – that this dance “isn’t only important in Asian culture ... It exists in each one of us. There is no specific style to ‘butoh.’ Each person dances it differently. It reflects the life of the one dancing.”

Moukarzel and Sakabe met through gallerist Alice Mogabgab, and have each collaborated with her on several solo and collective exhibitions. Both artists agreed to take on this photographic project, following Mogabgab’s initiative.

A year ago, Sakabe went to Moukarzel’s studio in Karantina for the shooting, which left the photographer in a state of admiration.“He came here, he danced and I saw how he danced,” Moukarzel said.

“I decided to [represent] the purity of this dance in the images.” With three different photographic angles – shot simultaneously – Moukarzel succeeded in capturing the essence of Sakabe’s “butoh.”

The photographer said that photographing Sakabe’s performance art was a huge responsibility. The “butoh” consists in reflecting life, death, or work ... Everything related to what the dancer feels in the moment. “I dance like the wind, the sea,” Sakabe wrote.

“I dance like the rain and like a tree. I dance in diapason with the universe.”

The dance isn’t the only significant element of “butoh,” however. The clothes and makeup need to be carefully chosen. In Japan, putting white foundation on the skin is anchored in the country’s artistic traditions, used in theater and dance performances and also by geishas.

Sakabe painted his face white to dance the “butoh” and wore white cloths to show that he wasn’t the one dancing, but the embodiment of natural elements. He explained that white stands for “sugata,” a term meaning “the next woman,” which further suggests that he wasn’t dancing for himself or his audience, but for someone else.

Black clothes, which Sakabe chose for a performance in Istanbul a few weeks back, can also be worn to dance “butoh.” Moukarzel alternated between white and black backdrops in his photographs to highlight the drama and beauty of Sakabe’s movements. The latter also held neon lights, to emphasize the dynamism of the bodywithout reducing the traditional element of the performance.

The physical preparation for the “butoh” is quite intense as well. “I am ready two hours before dancing,” Sakabe wrote.

“Then, I lie down on the floor and seek for the universe’s harmony.”

Mogabgab confessed that during one of the exhibitions at the gallery, Sakabe locked himself in the bathroom for two hours to prepare himself physically and spiritually for the “butoh.”

Fifteen photographs by Moukarzel and five paintings by Sakabe will be displayed in this one-of-a-kind artistic project, which shows how movement and motionlessness meet.

“Roger Moukarzel photographie le buto de Takayoshi Sakabe” will be on display at Alice Mogabgab Gallery in Ashrafieh from Oct. 2-25. For more information, please call 03-210-424.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 02, 2012, on page 16.

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