INTERVIEW WITH MARIE-GABRIELLE ROTIE,
ON A CAREER AS A FEMALE SOLOIST,
13 NOVEMBER, 2008
During my time living with Marie, often, we would share our days treasures and torments as we would meet in what i called her rustic kitchen. There, we could have been in the Welsh countryside, two women telling tales, making wishes. But then, a phone call, a place to be, a lesson to be taught, a meeting with Donatella from the London School of fashion, a shift at “Sesami” local Greek store, a rehearsal ,would soon enough set us on our respective paths, only meeting again in a workshop context, or the coincidental tea break…This is how we decided to arrange a meeting, noted in diaries, in Marie’s living room, in order for me to interview her on her life as a female Butoh influenced solo artist. A chance for choreographers and their shadows to cast in the winter sunlight, and figure what had passed and what was ahead, amidst the rush of a dancing life.
Alison: You have developed a personal and intimate choreographic vocabulary and aesthetic universe throughout your solos. Coming from a fine arts background, how did you create your own dance from Butoh?
Marie: I think because i have come from a fine art background, then of course my approach to movement is quite different than if i had come from a pure dance background. So when i encountered dance was in 1991 and at that point i had just finished my fine art training. I guess throughout my fine art training, i realised i was a frustrated dancer; there was this desire to explore the body. I had explored the body through photography, film, installation work but that body was always at a one dimensional plane, whithin the visula field. Then doing installation work, i started to put my body into the live moment. And this is when i realised that actually performance was something of interest to me but beyond the languages of performance art. Performance art seems to work with very kind of limited, pedestrian vocabulary, or tableau…I went on a dance oddyssey and two years down the line, after doing Martha Graham technique and release and various other techniques and voice work, i found Butoh. Now the thing that attracted me instantly is the visual field in which it operates. The dancer is immediately a creative dancer and not bound to having to learn a high degree of technical proficiency before they’re able to be creative. So from the beginnning, Butoh training and Butoh dance are a parallel journey. For me this was of interest as a fine artist, because you’re given a very autonomous role. You’re drawing but you’re also creating at the same time. My experience of contemporary dance training was that it was maybe two or three years down the line before i was really truly be creative with the technical languages that were being employed in these classes. So i think still Butoh demands a huge amount of technical training, but i think it still allows for a creative practice to evolve in line with your training. This was the big leap for me somehow into being able to go into the body as the tool and instrument of my creative journey and not just the subject. I think the visual field never really left me and i think the attraction for me in terms exploring movement has always been looking at the body in a very sculptural, visual way. I think i see the body more in terms of its form perhaps than other choreographers. I think my interest is not just in movement per se but in the framing of the body in space or how the space frames the body. So this has led me to quite a visual, sculptural language which is quite different from what’s out there. It does connect me somewhat to Butoh but non the less there is still something which is distinctly my own journey. Of course, now i can say that maybe i have connections with someone like Jill Joven, quite by chance, or i might see a choreographer where i can say “Okay, they’re on the same journey”. But i’ve come to it from a visual field as opposed to a pure dance field. In terms of the actual conceptualisation of the work, i think again it’s very different. The work comes from very imagistic bases, or conceptual bases which are visual, and then becomes physical. So the conceptual terrain is already very clear from the beginning, where my experience of working with contemporary dancers, especially at Laban, is that people tend to work from pure physicality and will conceptualise later. And then find the title or the raison d’etre for the work to exist. So i guess it’s very different ways of working but the arrival points can often be the same.
Alison: This way of working seems to make you distinctive within the Butoh world. Isn’t Butoh’s starting point an embodiement of a feeling?
Marie: I think that’s absolutely right. My experience of a lot of Butoh dancers, especially from Japan, is that they will have come from a Butoh training from a Butoh Master. Especially second, third generation. So you’re often dealing with being trained, highly technically as a dancer but not necessarily having something very distinct. I ahve encountered may dancers trained with Min Tanaka, body weather, or trained with old Butoh masters, wether japanese or european. Butoh doesn’t necessarily give you a distinct choreographic voice. The temptation is just to churn out all the usual forms. Butoh can be an equal dangerous territory as contemporary dance, because it can still give you this kind of safety net of languages and images. But my interest in Butoh is something more that and that is why i think the work is slightly different. If i compared my work to someone like Imre Thorman’s work; he is a fantastic dancer but very much coming from the Butoh tradition. I think there is very few artists in the Butoh world who i really connect to. For example Sayoko Onishi or Kitt Johnson in Denmark, who have managed to use Butoh but imprint their own visual and imagistic universe onto the field. So it’s not just Butoh, again…but Butoh in the service of the articulation of your vision.
Alison: Throughout your pieces, the lighting is used to create shadows over the body or make of the body a dancing shadow, could you explain the significance of this choice?
Marie: That’s very philosophical for me. Of course, some shadow is always incidental in performances, not necessarily conceptually there from the beginning but was used. But i would say that now, especially with my last solo piece “Black mirror”, where i was exploring the split between self and shadow, between persona and the inner life. Who are we? The fraction of self. Shadow became a very strong metaphor for all that is hidden, or all that is revealed, or trying to break this binary opposition between hidden and revealed, or between shadow and self. So that in the end i ask myself the question “where do i exist? Is it in the tangible or the intangible?” Actually someone at Goldsmith, at the discussion after the performance (extract of “Black Mirror”) said something very interesting about the shadow as a kind of prosthetic, an extension of the body, and this has really become a new terrrain of thought for me since that conversation. I had never really thought of it as a prosthetic. I thought of shadow as something that i am but i am not. This is interesting for me in the relation to all the thematics in the work to do with the exiled self, the banished self, the dark self. All of those things that are rejected culturally. Shadow is an interesting thing to continue and obviously has a very long tradition, with shadow puppetry. But i think it’s beyond puppetry, unless i think of myself as the puppet of my shadow, in all senses.
Alison: I notice a position of the body used in each one of the solos…what does the Hanging position mean to you?
Marie: Originally, i found this position by accident. So when i made my very first solo “Angel Animal”, i was just playing around, because i’m interested in sculptural form, i was just distorting my body into various postures and then i came accross this backwards pose and i thought to myself “ Why have i chosen this?” because it was then another two months of being in this back position. “Angel Animal” was made five or six years into my Butoh journey. But soon after that, i discovered this hanging position from Minaki Saki. She came and she was speaking about the Hanging Body and i’d never heard this term before in Butoh. And then i realised that this hanging body is a kind of philosophical concept within Butoh aswell. But for me it was a purely accidental position but then, in a way, in “Angel Animal”, i was playing with the tension between above and below. From Butoh and my own thinking, i understand that the human body is the only special, real access between above and below in the animal kingdom. So we have this very special ability to be upright and to feel this very strong vertical connection through the spine between above and below. So i think it had the metaphysical connotation. Looking at the planes between heaven and earth, looking at notions of conscious and unconscious, or reason and emtion, or angel and animal. So i started to look at these polarities and the body in this arch position, central mediator between these two planes. So in this sense, in “Angel Animal”, it was quite puppet-like. I felt like i was on strings, bound to this idea of transcendence, but at the same time wanting some kind of imminence, which for me was represented through animality. This tension between transcedence and imminence, and the idea of this invisible puppet master above. Some of these images are very close to Butoh aswell. So i think i try to use it for my own purposes in my own metaphysical journey. I would say it was a metaphysical piece exploring the idea that the body is stuck between these two possibilities.
Alison: Is this also a principle of Butoh, to try and embody metaphysical ideas?
Marie: I think one of the feminist ambitions has been to bring the metaphysical and the transcendence into oneness, or into some parrallel journey. I think the metaphysical is often allied to someting beyond the flesh. So flesh is sometimes seen as something lesser than spirit. But philosphers like Irigaray and Sixou have been keen to bring together flesh and spirit as one. In which case we have to question the concept of the metaphysical and place it less into the transcendent and more into the flesh. But the tranmscendent is seens as something of the flesh. I think this is something quite difficult to talk about and i don’t feel fully qualified to do so. But that was one of the journey’s in th Hanging body. At the time it wasn’t so clear to me but now this idea of being like a piece of meat aswell! Hijikata speaks of the meat body, hanging on a hook or the body trying to stand up right, being like a corpse. This is another image for the hanging body, like the hanging man. I think it has many connotations actually but for me, it has this particular metaphysical frame.
Alison: How has reading the author Luce Irigaray had and influence on your work?
Marie:I came accross Irigaray during my fine art studies, 1990, before i entered into dance. I was immediately struck by how revolutionary her writing was. So she is trying to rewrite philosophy, rewrite the journey from Plato’s cave onwards. I think this image of Plato’s cave, the shadows of the cave and what is reality, what is a dream, for me became a very strong visual trigger for thinking about my work. There are a number of essays that she’s witten, so “Belief istelf”- “Divine Women”, where she’s questionning the very nature of this divide between flesh and spirit. What is our god? What are our goddesses? Trying to reclaim the flesh, reclaim the feminine. But at the same time, doing so not in the words of the other but in our own words, or in our own acts. I think this is one of the key aims for myself as a performer. It’s to try to define myself not as the other would define me but define myself in my own terms. I think Irigaray is searching for those terms. One of the other things i was attracted to in her work is that she really tries to see the difference between the man and the woman, so that equality is not seen as being the same, but as valuing difference between the man and the woman, and the essential need for a separation between man and woman. This in order for the woman to exist in her own terms but at the same time, aknowledging the possibility of an encounter. These are the things that inspired me. Irigaray in fact became the trigger for my first duet, “Fluid Edges”, where we dealt with her notion of the mirror that traps us , clips our wings. So we started to use a lot of bird imagery. And then, this idea of flight led into the solo, “Angel Animal” but i took to a much more earthy terrein. So the animal was obviously allied to some kind of earth energy and at the same time some tremendous pain. There were things that i wasn’t conscious of when i made that solo. But when i look at it now, with this yelping voice, then i think there was a great deal of pain of entering into the flesh and claiming this kind of power! After having had a religious period in my life where god was something up there and the body something down here, banished. And sexuality was banished aswell. So, for me, it was a personal journey in “Angel Animal” but Irigaray was a kind of trigger.
Alison: Butoh often puts on stage naked bodies dancing. Could you explain this choice in relation to your work, particularly “Angel Animal” and “Black Mirror”?
Marie: It’s never easy to be naked on stage, and especially now. Between the ages of 26 and 41, your body changes a lot. I think i always try to make a very clear decision about why i’m going to be naked. Often, i think, in Butoh, nakedness is just taken for granted, that you assume that if you do Butoh, you are going to be naked. But i think i challenge that assumption a great deal. I’ve seen pieces where you have a male japanese performer in clothes, surrounded by four naked european woman dancers. For me, that is a terrible problematic. The questionning of nakedness is not there. So i use it really with care. Often it is a real struggle for me to get at that point because i think, deep down, i would rather not be naked on stage. But i think in “Angel Animal”, i arrived at that because i knew i had to claim my flesh. It was just something i had to do, i had to get these clothes off, be animal! And that meant shedding a lot of the things that are considered human, which is clothing. So clothing would just not work in this context. So it was trying to get back to some skin, animal point. In “Black Mirror”, it became essential for that work because it was about a natal image, but at the same time such a bloody image. Because it was so menstrual, it just needed to be about flesh again. It was also a subversion of a kind of eroticism. So i tried to do it in such a way that people go “ow, she’s naked” but at the same time to realise how distressing, how bloody, how awfull. Rather than how sexy! I think sexuality and erotisicism is something to be subverted in relationship to the naked body. I find that a very empowering place to be as a performer. Because we’re surrounded by images of naked women, but often displayed accross page three or news of the world. So how as a performer can we reclaim our bodies as women, especially so that they can become vehicles for challenges, for questions, for subversions really. And for me that’s a very intersting place for me to be.
Alison: Could you explain the relationship between animals, feminity and use of voice in your solos “Angel Animal”, “Flying Chair”, and “Mutability”?
Marie: Generally when i do use the voice, it speaks of a kind of pain, something which is exiled or cut off. It’s like i imagine when i use my voice, i’m releasing the mute part of some self, which has not been able to speak at all, or being able to release this sound which is beyond words. I think there is an interesting opposition between vocal sounds as opposed to words. Sound touches things that no words could possibly say. I guess it’s been allied to my researches into bird movement , so the voice has been integral to that. I suppose it helps as well with the quest for transformation. So if i was to speak as an animal it would be quite bizarre, but making sound as bird or animal, makes more sense. It’s just there. Once we release the voice from the tyranny of the word, then i think we get closer to the flesh. Somehow, the sound is part of the flesh world and for me that’s an interesting place aswell.
Alison: You seem to break from traditional “limited in space” Butoh positions to unleash yourself in the use of the whole stage, with a shift in vocabulary and direction with “Mutability”. Would you agree and how did this come about?
Marie: “Mutability” is an interesting experiment within the usual style of my work. I made “Mutability”, commissioned by Welsh Independent Dance, and i had very little money to make it and very little time. In that same year i did four working projects with choreographer Ko Murobushi. So i would say Ko exerted a fairly strong influence on the creation of that work. I showed him a part of that solo when it was still being made, in Vienna. He saw the beginning of that work and his influence was very strong. We did an Arts Council Research duet in he same year and in the duet we spoke a lot about how to break the intensity of Butoh by switching into another energy, which could be pedestrian. And also because Butoh generally is quite static, there’s not much travelling in space although the space is alive none the less. How to shift spatially? And we spoke a lot about cutting and reestablishing yourself physically in another space. So i started experimenting with this in this solo. It had been a carryover from our duet in a way. It was interesting to explore that but i would say that my work is tremendously static, even for Butoh. I really like to work with this defined light and space. I think it was a good task for me to have gone through, is to try to break space, to travel in space.
Alison: But there seems to already be movement in space in “Flying Chair”, the solo prior to “Mutability”..?
Marie: I think “Flying Chair” evolved very fluidly. I didn’t have a conscious decision to travel but it happened as the material evolved. I think because the fundamental influences were momentum, and gravity. I was working a lot with momentum, at the edge of falling and gravity as physical principles. At the same time, transformation again. So much to do with flight and gravity and again influenced by Irigaray. Trying to question the idea of why flight connotes freedom, and why not have a flight into the flesh? As opposed to away from the flesh..I guess because it was called “Flying chair for Da Vinci”, there was Leonardo’s image of flight but also this human body inside this circle, the geometrical body. Trying to collapse this idea of above and below again, really. It all happened as part of the process. It was and easy solo to make, i made it in two weeks. The conceptualisation of the work took over a year. I had endless sketch books of notes and ideas and the work ended up nothing like the original concept. I would say that was one solo that was quite physical process driven, as opposed to conceptually driven. I had to accept where it had gone, outside of my conceptual frames. It ended up much more like physical theatre, Butoh…”my kind of work piece”, and quite different fro where i thought it would go…But sometimes you have to do that, you have to let go.
Alison: Yes, this solo is the one where i recognised your style the most…
Marie: People have said to me that it was like my signature solo. My manager at the time said that this was my signature solo, it was when you arrived at an aesthetic, tendency for your work. It was a pivotal moment where i was able to let go of the rigour of the fine artist and surrender to the body, at the same time traverse physicality and concept. It was an interesting point of departure.
Alison: We see the gothic theme clearly appear in “Flying chair for Da Vinci”, can you share what interests you in this universe? Will you explore it further after “Black Mirror”?
Marie: It’s been a very indirect journey..With “Flying chair”, i was very conscious that i ended up with witch image and in fact, i had been lecturing on and exploring witchcraft, folklore and mythology prior to making that work. This image of the witch as part of the banished self was something that i found engaged me and then looking at imagery of goddesses. Hekate and these kind of caracters…And then i realised that all this thinking is part of a subculture which is gothic. So gothic as a subculture in particular does seem to link in with those tendencies of looking at the idea of the dark feminine. I never thought of myself as gothic but i think now i take the word, partly from the academic Catherine Spooner, and rather tend to use the word contemporary gothic as a philosophical framework. This is something referring to outside of the image of women dressed in black, but traversing quite a wide range of philosophical tendencies. “Black Mirror” became part of that. I identify with discourse quite strongly now but it was after having made the work already and realising that’s where i can place myslef. It just helps me to make an identity for my work. I’m a romanticist, not a classicist,…maybe i’m a contemporary gothic? It is more like identifying with a cultural tendency, it’s given me a home outside of Butoh. Feminism has given me a home, Butoh has and contemporary gothic gives me an esthetic home.
Alison: Can you describe this esthetic home?
Marie: It has a desire to challenge certain aesthetics over others…marginalised, hidden, repressed. It refers to a whole which is self referential. In terms of my work in Buto, i guess i am referring to Hijikata but at the same time, recycling which is one of the principles of Gothic.
Alison: Do you think Buto is particularly good in order to express feminine claims?
Marie: It’s quite a complex story because the origins of Buto are quite male and very much geared around the expressions of male sexuality, homosexuality. In Hijikata’s early work, he was still working with the clichés of the feminine…the geisha, the Madonna, the prostitute,…But his main dancer was so amazing that she was able to take these problematic images and rehash them into her own body, making them entirely subversive. Si i think its still possible to work within the cliché but then to trash it and to form a new esthetic. And i think Buto enables us to do this extremely well… for example, the image of little girls in knickers ,somehow it can never be straightforwardly erotic. It is always something disturbing, unrooted…because of the language of the body that is being brought, it’s never really truly beautifull. The link that is interesting with Marina Warner is that she works so much with fairytales and transformation, going to the root of the fairytale, to discover the dark and mythological feminine, sexuality. Buto allows for woman to go beyond the body beautifull, in movement aswell, and discover ugliness within their own dance…In that way it is a very radical way of working and has strong allies with feminine claims.
Alison: Which Buto dancer has inspired you most?
Marie: Ko Murobushi…I had already done Buto for 8 years before i found Ko. He has had a strong influence on me but not necessarily in how i execute my dance but in his radical approach to Buto. He’s always trying to dismantle Buto, he is still asking himself the question “what is Buto?” He is really asking so many deep questions about what is dance, Buto, the body…This is what influences me more than his training or aesthetic. In Mutability, 2003, i was very much influenced by his style. I have come to the philosophy that my Master, even if he refuses to be a Master, has had such a strong impact on my physical memory that i know he will never die…This is the beauty of being a Master, their voice will continue to live within their student in some form…
Alison: What is your understanding of Hijikata’s quote about Butoh “The dance of the body that hasn’t been robbed”?
Marie: I think this is interesting in relationship to the feminism question…Hijikata was from a poor family from the north of Japan and was acutely aware of his social position. By this quote, he meant that he wanted to refuse all the gender encodings, social encodings, class, race, these things that are written upon us…he wanted to fragment that and question who he was.
For dance, i think this is an interesting term because it means to refuse to be stuck in a stylistic system and try to return to ground zero and beyond it, what is my dance, beyond everything i understand about it? I think this is the task of Buto…confuse the body, rob the body as well and return to a body that has not been robbed, if this is possible.
He was also influenced by Jean Genet and he used the image of the thief as the outsider, the criminal…so who is the criminal? Culture, society? But Hijikata was also disturbing his culture.
Alison:In her book about fairytales and their tellers” From the beast to the Blonde”, Marina Walker introduces fairytales as a form of expression that “has given women a place from which to speak, but they sometimes speak of speechlessness as a weapon of last resort”. With characters such as the raving old woman and silent little girl appearing, reappearing and transforming in your solos, could I call you a cantadora, storyteller?”
Marie: I don’t want to read my solos as a narrative, but maybe a poet?
Not able to stay put long enough, this interview ended in Dartington college of arts, where I participated in my last workshop with Marie for this Project. As Bing Crosby was chirping in the background, I tried to gather how Butoh could have travelled so far from the mud of Hokaido. I had to remind myself of Hijikata’s quote “Hokaido can be anywhere”…and in the middle of this more than festive environment, I am sure I felt a shudder, and a shadow of a doubt.