To think like a crocodile, instructs Berlin-based butoh artist Anzu Furukawa, "sometime, just stop your breathing, you will get a red face, and taste a crocodile time." Furukawa herself will attempt to penetrate the mysteries of the ancient reptilian brain with The Crocodile Time, a 45-minute solo set to Verdi's La Traviata, at the fifth annual San Francisco Butoh Festival, which has been instrumental in acquainting Western viewers with ankoku butoh, or "dance of darkness."
Ever since 1959, when the late Tatsumi Hijikata scandalized the conservative Japanese Dance Association with an "inappropriate" performance suggesting rebellion and transformation, butoh has served as a link between the anti-nuclear sentiment of postwar Japan and radical elements of Western modern dance. Butoh has renounced stylized theatrical excess, stripping away story lines, sets, and sometimes costumes in search of a purer form of emotional expression. Performers, who paint themselves white and use their bodies the way an artist uses a blank canvas, begin with ostensibly simple concepts -- time, space, the natural world -- and gradually peel away layers of meaning in passages that can range from the lyrical to the grotesque. It can be difficult to watch, but it can be mesmerizing, too.
Furukawa joins Berkeley's "bow-legged Nijinsky," Koichi Tamano, and his company Harupin-Ha in programs on Thursday and Saturday night. On Friday, Leigh Evans combines butoh with Suzuki Theater, Indian Odissi dance, and yoga in a program with Judith Kajiwara and Collapsing Silence. The four-day festival concludes Sunday with the "Butoh Bash and Video Cafe," where Seattle's Dappin' Butoh, festival organizer Brechin Flournoy, Hawaii's Tangentz Performance Group, and others join a main stage performance marathon before spilling out into the streets. The festival begins at 8 p.m. Thursday at ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. (at Shotwell), S.F. Admission is $15-18; call 863-9834. (