Butoh on the brink of The Singularity

Dairakudakan returns to Playhouse with cyborg-dystopian "near future" Manga 

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Firebird in the dendrite forest. Photo: Hiroyuki Kawashima

The white coats rally, though, when the rebels meekly surrender the severed prosthetics. Surpassingly intelligent though they may be, the automata are not yet conscious enough to aspire to the controller’s throne.

So the techies set out to repair the wreckage of the uprising, using white-light laser “oilcans” to heal the broken joints and bloody stumps. They even concoct a new pièce de résistance: a kind of blanched Barbie glamour ‘bot with the shag hair bob, perky tunic and provocative pout of a manga gamine.

When all is patched up, Mr. Moneybags – trailed by his Frankenstein and Igor, to the grunts and moans of his attendant priest – passes among his mechanical legions, anointing all with some bright pink bionic Joy Juice. The robots celebrate their resurrection with cyber-kungfu jousts to the incongruous strains of composer Doi’s lilting waltz as performed on a Japanese samisen.

The growling priest presides over this ‘droid dojo as umpire, coach and cheerleader. But, after a few hyper-ceremonious rounds, his yips and barks can no longer goad the combatants to compete. For that, it seems, they’d need a little more autonomous spunk, what the program note scenario refers to as a “Soul Injection.”

Or, in cyber-speak, “The Singularity,” the much-anticipated (or dreaded) turning point when Artificial Intelligences attain not only self-awareness but some sort of unimaginable hyper-consciousness, the ultimate unleashing of the Ghost in the Machine.

Specifically, butoh-master Maro in his Ghost garb. But this time, he reappears onstage not as a wispy, barrel-bound spectre, but rather as a queenly hag blowing kisses from a parade float. It’s dragged by virtually the entire 20-member cast, with Frankenstein on the lead rope, Moneybags as footman and ghouls bound to the chariot wheels as Barbie, Igor and the Priest caper behind.

For this finale, drag queen Maro trades in grave clothes for a white taffeta wedding gown and hair teased up into a bouffant fright-wig. With “skin was as white as leprosy/ The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she, Who thicks man's blood with cold,” especially when she steps down from her rolling Juggernaut to taunt us with a hideous cakewalk of palsied bumps and grinds. Maro, Barbie and Igor vie to take over the conductor's throne, but then decide to punt and pose for cheesy threesome selfies instead.

But all that Coleridge and Rath Yatra reference is just the happenstance clutter of my own spooky mind. Dairakudakan threads its mycelia into the far deeper, darker, richer compost of Japan’s own trove of uncanny lore and imagery. The result is a spectacle as intellectually challenging as it is aesthetically dazzling and slyly funny. It’s a testament to the artists’ inventiveness, rigour, coordination and skill that they can tap their ancient, culturally specific archetypes to engage a Western audience on issues of urgent contemporary relevance.

 

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