Tangentz adds passion to Japanese dance form
By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer
Take this weekend's concert by Tangentz Performance Group, a Honolulu-based butoh company. Lori Ohtani, Tangentz founder, is restaging "Equinox," her multimedia piece about the balance of night and day, highlighted with video of Copernicus' drawings and charts.
Selections by guest artist Maureen Freehill, a graduate student in Asian performance at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, includes one about the physical and spiritual work of gardening, one about death and separation and one on the simple ecstasy of life.
Freehill, who studied butoh in Japan for three years under masters Kazuo and Yoshito Ohno, describes the art as "a dance of the soul ... It is a way of life and a constant search for how to embody and share this true essence of being with the audience."
It is not so much the subject matter that defines butoh, but more the approach. Although it's not always a feature, the face and body makeup, adapted from the conventions of kabuki theater, is a way to enable thoughts to be conveyed more abstractly, Ohtani said.
"When the white makeup is applied, it probably helps the dancer take away their humanness or personality," she said. "They really do start from this blank slate."
Ohtani, along with her husband Dan Hermon, is the mainstay of Tangentz, which has waxed and waned over the seven years of its existence with a varied roster of performers.
Its other members currently include Steve Novak and Gary Higashida; regular player Tsugumi Iwasaki-Higbee is unavailable for these concerts, so another guest artist, Fay Chun, will take her place.
In addition, the concert will spotlight the company's students: Liz Lamar, Helen Lee, Adrien Wiggin and Mika Watanabe.
Ohtani was on the verge of earning her bachelor's in fine arts at UH, specializing in painting and sculpture, when she took her first dance class during a summer session. And when she stumbled into butoh (a flier featuring Cheryl Flaharty in butoh costume caught her eye), this form in particular became her true love.
Ohtani danced with and became assistant director for Flaharty's Iona Pear Dance Theatre, which concentrated on butoh but not exclusively. Then, in 1994, she decided to study the art more intensively and left Iona Pear.
After studying with various teachers at a San Francisco festival, Ohtani founded Tangentz, which has a "raw" style that is still evolving. "There's an intensity in my work, and I like to keep an edge to it," she said.
Butoh training blends both physical development (one of Ohtani's classes involves about 45 minutes of aerobics to get the body working) and spiritual elements, walking and breathing meditatively, using imagery and visualization as a starting point in dance.
"We might take an image of water, and try to find the connection where the image can be physicalized, internally and externally," she said.
Despite the almost ethereal, other-worldly nature of butoh, its devotees dispute that it lacks feeling.
"Sometimes what we know of butoh can be 'empty' or devoid of human emotion," Freehill said. "In that sense it is considered pure.
"However, I learned butoh that is always very personal and quite passionate, in that it also speaks to universal and pure experiences of being human."
Correction: The first name of Tangentz founder Lori Ohtani was incorrectly stated in a previous version of this story.