India – The Giant at the Butoh Festival

He was a giant of perfect proportions, like Michelangelo’s David.  Draped in deep red cloth, martial arts style, over olive skin he was a painting. Sculpted supple arms and angular face with thick dark eyelashes around his slightly droopy eyes, the kind of droop that you knew came with a slow deep sensual voice.  I was mesmerized.  I had forgotten about the hostile, shifty eyed woman, who pulled me into her paranoid world at the teashop, a few days before, and who was shooting darts at me in the hallway a moment ago. 

It had been a forty five minute walk through monkey kingdom, into the chaos of the tourist streets of Mcloud Ganj, past the Japanese restaurant, an awkward climb up the dirt pile that blocked the road, and a precarious slide down, next to the cement truck, over the recently hand poured concrete street, onto the broken road, still further down the steep hill, where the Tibetan women lived and the Indian men worked on their motorcycles.  On the left, past the healing center, the blossoming Datura and Brugmansia flowers, through the green grass, and into the circular shaped, grey slate building, with an empty pool in the back yard.  The wooden dance floor felt so soothingly familiar on my feet.  It had been the first and only wooden dance floor I’d seen in India and it was filled with dancers with dreadlocks, tattoos, jewelry, stretch pants, enthusiasm and a giant.

The journey to the circular room weeded out curiosity seekers and tourists.  Those who made it there wanted to be there for the first day of the Butoh Festival:  eleven days of free workshops, led by different student teachers, and evening performances.  

I spent the morning making agreements with my shoulder.  I would be careful and mindful to not do things that would hurt it.  She would ease up a little so some other parts of my body and soul could feel free. 

When I realized I was staring at him I shook myself up off from the floor and attempted to notice other people and myself.  

A thin muscular, olive skinned woman with black hair entered the room with a large singing bowl.  She asked everyone to form a circle.  There were so many of us we had to have our backs against the walls.  After giving us a brief introduction to Butoh, she started playing the bowl and guiding us to walk in a circle around the room, alternating between moving forward, then backward, then into the center and all around the room, filling it with our slow movements.  My attention moved inward.  She brought in bones and small dried dead animals, rocks and feathers.  We were to move as if we were those objects.  Then we were to interact with others in our movements.  

There were many limbs and bodies in such a small space.  I began slowly mimicking a tall man next to me.  I was practiced at the art of contact improvisation and defaulted to that mode of interaction.  We touched forearms and abruptly picked up the pace of our movements.  Stomping, twitching and twisting, we found our way to the floor.  I began to knead his belly and thighs.  The kneading became more aggressive, more like grabbing.  My partner contorted his face and made animal noises.  I joined in with the sound.  He twisted and I went with him into another body, who was hunched over pounding on the floor with her hands.  I released my first partner and began to writhe in rhythm with my new partner, coming off the floor in a jerky kind of flying motion.  More bodies contacted mine and we swam through limbs, hair, fingers and hips.  

Head first; I melted into the belly of the giant with deep red pants.  He folded over me and we spiraled to the ground, rolling and twisting over one another, moving away from the center of the room, distinguishing our body parts from the collective.  We were bones and feathers on fire, flapping, biting, squeezing, pushing, pulling and rolling, until the beast was satiated.  I laid curled with my back pressed against his belly, his hand gently on my head and my hands wrapped around his fatherly forearm.  We laid in our still cocoon as the rest of the bodies writhed and screeched around us.  

The teacher rang the bowl and the dancers settled into quiet calm.  She gave instructions for the next structure.  The peaceful giant and I did not stir.  We were drinking in the nectar of what neuroscience would call attunement, feeling oneself deeper by the experience of feeling felt by another.

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