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PRESS REVIEWS - VANGELINE (DIRECTOR - CHOREOGRAPHER - BUTOH DANCER)
Vangeline in ELSEWHERE at Gibney Dance Review
Like an earthbound Hecate - a mythical witch and the third Greek godhead of the moon - Vangeline straddles conventional boundaries while blazing forward. Continuing her mission to pull butoh into the 21st Century, this mysterious master of minimal movement cast a spell over the packed house at Theater for The New City in her latest production Butoh Beethoven: Eclipse. The Eclipse aspect of this performance in particular kept audiences enthralled during the spooky pre-Halloween story.
Clad in a dress that bled light - created from designs by Tilen Sepic with fiber optic costuming from Lumigram - Vangeline slowly flashed across the stage as if she were embodying waning phases of the moon. Her nigh imperceptible gestures seemed to cleave between this dimension and some dark nether-realm.
Eclipse was created by Vangeline to honour Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of Butoh. In that regard it felt as if she were drawing forth his spirit from another world. Her dress, with its threads of illumination, oozed a penumbra that rippled through the air in beat with her every breath. Moving with a deliberate, excruciatingly slow gait, Vangeline retrieved a circular ring of light that appeared to be suspended in the sky, and used it to frame her face. Facing forward with this ring obscuring our vision, Vangeline subtly shuddered and convulsed as if she were peering through a scrying pool at something of mind-blasting awesomeness. What did she see? Removing the moon totem to commune with us, her placid mien betraying little, Vangeline opened and closed her eyes with scrupulous elegance. Whatever burst forth through her slow-moving lashes was all she had to share with us concerning her journey to the other side. At that moment, once again, she was the blameless moon clothed in stars. A bewitching fixture affixed in the sky, drawing all eyes to her as if she were a portal to another world. Caught in her enchantment of suspended time, one failed to notice how swiftly the minutes were actually flying by. In a flash, all lights were extinguished, leaving us with swiftly fading memories of the lady in the moon as she passed on an eclipse to the other side.
Butoh, whether in abstract performance or enhanced by technology and uncommon narratives, is a niche field. It requires an appreciation for quieter moments and patience with stillness. The intensity that a performer of Vangeline's stature undergoes is incredible but not likely to appeal to a wider audience. Regardless, her solo performance commanded a packed to capacity 400 seat theatre.
This production originally performed on October 14th, 2017 at Theater For the New City.
Butoh Beethoven: Eclipse
Choreographed, Conceived and Performed by Vangeline
Produced by Vangeline Theater
Off Off Broadway, Dance
Runs through 10.31.16
Producer's Club, 358 West 44th Street
by Taylor Black on 10.29.16
BOTTOM LINE: Vangeline's virtuosic solo performance will make your skin crawl in the best way possible, conjuring the ghosts of tortured geniuses Beethoven and Tatsumi Hijikata and bringing Butoh into the 21st century with technical marvels and masterful skill.
In trying to describe Vangeline’s virtuosic solo Butoh Beethoven, I keep returning to the film A Clockwork Orange, where the protagonist Alex adores the sensuous music of “Ludwig Van” as a backdrop to his ultra-violence, only to later lash out at the Ninth Symphony’s use in his aversion torture as “a sin!...Ludwig Van never hurt anyone, Beethoven just wrote music.”
The analogy between the film and Butoh Beethoven seems perfect: an all-white aesthetic coupled with a revolting, crawling, insectile feel and a complex critique of violence and the disconnect of the modern world, with all this ickiness set to Beethoven’s gorgeous, melodious symphonies. And Vangeline herself has a stated goal: to “bring Butoh into the 21st century” through a connection to film aesthetics, technology, and the trials of the modern age. But it seems that perhaps Vangeline knows something the protagonist of Kubrick’s film misses: that a piece of music does far more than simply exist, and can be violent, glorious, and wracked with history, a secret the Butoh form of dance knows well.
As the postscript “Admiring Tatsumi Hijikata” suggests, Vangeline conjures the ghost of one of the originators of Butoh, who helped to found the discipline in the wake of World War II and the bombing of Hiroshima. Living in this aftermath, Hijikata’s dance form conjures the spectral realm of suffering to explore the darkness within. Butoh dance is described as much by its absence as anything, and Vangeline follows the path of darkness in dancing the absence of these two ghostly, larger-than-life figures. Built from emptiness, darkness, and creepiness, Butoh Beethoven admires Beethoven and Hijikata by simmering in the hole their legacy leaves behind.
In the first act, Vangeline enters a dark stage with a pulsating, siren-like heart of light, strobing through the darkness for Hitchcock-creepy stage pictures. With the signature interminable slowness of Butoh movement, the piece transitions into Vangeline, an LED conductor’s baton, and infinite silence. As the lights come up the piece transitions into Beethoven’s "Fifth Symphony," as Vangeline conjures the spirit of Ludwig Van himself in a corpselike, tortured grotesque form. The figure proceeds to conduct the orchestra through the first movement, in fitful and captivating moves, though it is difficult to tell who is conducting who as Vangeline both initiates and responds to the musical cue, her face twitching through expressions equal parts orgasmic and agonized.
The soundscape is more than just the "Fifth Symphony" though, incorporating the coughs and shuffling of a recorded audience that brings the music back down to Earth in humbling Butoh fashion. The soundscapes merge the everyday with the epic, echoing the Butoh form’s focus on bringing the movement of ordinary labor, pain, and ugliness onto the stage. Todd Thomas’ costume hangs with endless shirtsleeves, behaving almost like a second conductor as Vangeline swings in wide arcs, perhaps taking an anachronistic jab at the role of the conductor’s hands. The lighting effects are truly stunning, featuring clever use of LED props and costumes that enable the body to act as light in fascinating and innovative ways.
In Act II, "Eclipse," Vangeline becomes a ghostly harbinger of the future, bringing light and darkness together to the world. The surprising co-star here is the costume and stage design. Tilen Sepic and French design company LumiGram collaborate beautifully to create the out-of-this-world stage pictures of Act II, where Vangeline herself is the only light onstage. It is in this piece especially that Vangeline’s homage to Hijikata merges with the trials of the 21st century. In slow, almost traditional movements, the figure fills with fiber optics as the sounds of communication swirl around, making the endless speed of the digital into a slow-moving flesh as Vangeline presents her Eclipse. A being of pure light and time, Eclipse is a trance-like exploration of the tension between slowness and infinite speed.
Watching Vangeline undergo these slow, rapt transformations, it is easy to forget how incredibly physically demanding this movement can be, and she has the control and poise of a true master of Butoh in this 60-minute feat of solo endurance. She is elegant in her ugliness and redemptive in her pain, and the effect is transforming. Butoh Beethoven is a difficult, weird, and uncomfortable piece to watch, but for precisely that reason it is incredibly moving and powerful. It is clear that Vangeline is an artist who knows the darkness of Butoh well, and has the incredible skill to make that darkness dance.
Review: Vangeline Theater’s “Butoh Beethoven”
Vangeline Theater opened its run of Butoh Beethoven at the Producer’s Club Royal this week. A solo work praised for its striking imagery and emotional journey, it did not disappoint.
Choreographed and performed by Vangeline, a French-born dancer and performer, Butoh Beethoven’s first act was set to the well-worn tune of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Paul Verlaine’s 1866 poem "Autumn Song." The evening begins in complete darkness, save for a glowing semicircle of stones onstage. Tension mounts as strobe effect lighting begins to reveal Vangeline’s figure at its center, the light creating angles of darkness across her white-painted face. A glowing baton appears, and circles, like the minute hand of a clock moving backwards in time. Amid a soundscape of bells, planes flying low, and air-raid sirens, Vangeline herself turns backwards in time and space to face a line of pig’s head masks strung across the back of the stage. She sheds the black robe cloaking her, and bows to recorded applause, as a conductor does to his audience, before turning towards us—playing the roles of both audience and orchestra—in the silence of all-white garb.
Butoh Beethoven was conceived by Vangeline as a tribute to both the German composer, and the late Tatsumi Hijikata, one of the founders of Butoh as a Japanese art form. In this first act, Vangeline seamlessly embodies the two ghosts simultaneously. She begins to conduct, in all its delicate intricacy, an imaginary orchestra as it fills the small theater with the increasingly victorious sounds of Beethoven’s fifth. In the midst of a truly captivating conducting performance (she studied conducting for months during the creation of this piece), Vangeline’s tribute to Hijikata shines through. Her body is minutely twisted and angled in a demonstration of precise choreographic grace, which is juxtaposed with the grotesque contortion of her facial features in true Butoh tradition.
The power of Butoh lies in its willingness to confront ugliness head-on. And as the evening continues, we are transported through time, to an oft-overlooked dark period in Japan’s history, and Hijikata’s role in repairing a country and culture after the ugliest of world-altering defeats. World War II is conjured repeatedly through Vangeline’s use of air-raid sirens and red strobe lighting. And we hear, in the second half of the first act, the words of French poet Paul Verlaine, whose famous poem, "Chanson d’Automne," played a crucial role in communications with the French Resistance during the war.
The second act of the evening, Eclipse, opens in complete darkness again. Vangeline’s robe is outfitted with fiber optic lights, which create an ethereal effect that is striking in contrast to the concrete imagery presented in the first act. Shrouded in darkness, save for the dress and a hoop, also outfitted with small lights, on the floor, she melts across the stage. Her movement is so controlled and fluid that it’s hard to tell, in the moment, if she is actually moving.
Set to a soundscape ranging from the Himalayas to New York City, Vangeline dances a calmness over us. Where her first act was heavy with the memory of battles fought and European turmoil, the second act uses continual, placid movement to convey rebirth, and a slow healing of the world. The culminating action of this second act is hanging the lighted hoop; in effect, creating the image of a solar eclipse against the back wall of the stage.
In a demonstration of strength both muscular and mental, and against the backdrop of a crushed Japan struggling to recreate itself, Vangeline tells the story of Butoh through Butoh, and tells it beautifully.
REVIEW FOR PROJECT GODIE (UK) Choreographed, Directed and with Vangeline
"electric...a psychological confrontation...deeply ominous and unnerving...Hypnotising...sensationally terrifying."
"Western cultural references could be the witches in Macbeth, Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, Lindsay Kemp’s radical mime/dance show Flowers in the 1970s, or Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. But even with this cache of cultural strangeness under your belt, nothing quite prepares you for the sheer thrill and terror inflicted by the barely perceptible advance of the dancers."
August 15, 2016
REVIEW FOR PROJECT GODIE (UK) Choreographed, Directed and with Vangeline
"utterly beautiful and terrifying...The sound, the movement, the talent and the setting all combined to make this a truly beautiful piece and I feel very privileged to have witnessed it."
Chris Connel, August 15, 2016
April 5, 2016
"a marvel to behold."
...The entire evening felt like a set of stage directions being written on the wind...
Butoh, which emerged in The 1960's is very much so still in its adolescence as a dance form. With collaborations such as what Vangeline and Mr. Nosan have offered us, I think it is safe to say that the work will continue to evolve attractively and certainly intriguingly."
-Juan Michael Porter II
REVIEW- RANDOM PICKS
Vangeline- Butoh Bethoven- at Edinburgh Fringe Festival
London Times critic Donald Hutera
Aug 14 Scotland, United Kingdom
"Butoh Beethoven: solo done with integrity and bends time as butoh 'should'"
REVIEW – Butoh Beethoven- Edinburgh Spotlight- 4 stars
August 12, 2015
"A mesmerising and exhilarating jewel...Vangeline’s exquisite control allows change where there seems no movement, as well as holding distorted shapes, sinking below crushing metaphorical weight and fighting to rise to the heights of glorious accomplishment. Black shadows emanate from and combine with her stark white figure, and red pulses as a heart beat or flows like fires of hell. The figure (masculine in feel) passionately conducts with a baton that can glow whitely in the dark, as do – faintly – the pebbles curved before it. Emerging finally from heroic struggles, we are transported to a shore of sea sounds, a washing clearance that may carry peace...a true tour de force, literally a feat of strength, within and without."
REVIEW -Butoh Beethoven at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
4 stars - Broadway Baby
August 8, 2015
"In a piece that is at times frightening, at times energizing and constantly absorbing, solo-performer Vangeline is our white-collared conductor, guiding us through a piece which abstractly explores the work and legacy of Beethoven and Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of butoh. Using subtle and raw choreography, brilliant accompaniment and the power of her presence, Vangeline succeeds in bringing an essence of these iconic individuals to life on stage.
The show enthrals from start to finish. Vangeline’s performance is deeply engrossing and demands attention. Even as she stands on stage in almost total darkness, the tension created pulls our focus towards her, leaving us waiting with bated breath for the next glimpse of her movement. From her endlessly expressive face to her masterful pace control, with commanding stillness interspersed with moments of high energy, the choreography is powerful yet simple.
The show has been impeccably designed, and works really well in the space. The presence or absence of light adds a second dimension to the piece. One of the highlights of the piece is when Vangeline’s shadow is dancing with her, its flickering form mirroring her intricate movements. Music, words and sounds wash over the audience and guide the performance along though the sections, providing both a structure for the piece as a whole and a deeply immersive sensory overload. Vangeline has a real feel for the accompaniment, whether it is Beethoven’s fifth or the sound of the ocean incessantly crashing in the distance."
by M. Johnson
REVIEW - Vangeline Theater's Wake Up and Smell the Coffee an Inspiring Environmental Narrative
by Emily McNeely
July 15, 2015
"The jaw-dropping awe that Butoh inspires was one that artistic director/choreographer Vangeline mastered; every movement was so carefully crafted, so meticulously taught. The clarity with which she and her dancers executed each movement built a strong sense of the scene, and inspired the audience to think like a choreographer – to calculate the breath of each movement, to watch every detail of the dancer's execution.
Brilliantly, Vangeline Theater defied a stereotype of contemporary dance: rather than reaching for abstract meaning, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee clearly presents its audience with an inspiring environmental narrative through movement alone."
Ravelin Magazine- Alec Coiro- 1/8/2015
Vangeline and the Dance of Darkness
"A bone-white witch, dressed as if brought forth from the past, lit from below to cast a vast shadow, moving incredibly slowly and deliberately while clutching a tattered piece of string.
I entered a hypnotic state of slow time not unlike the time we experience during a catastrophic accident"
See Chicago Dance
Review of "Fifth of Beethoven, Admiring Tatsumi Hijikata", at High Concepts Labs in Chicago
"In the compelling “Butoh meets Beethoven” solo, Vangeline uses an LED baton to “conduct” the full first movement of Symphony No. 5 with us as her orchestra and an “audience” of smiling pig masks upstage.
Vangeline’s ability to stay inside the solo's difficult degree of physicality is unparalleled, with tightened chin and eyes rolled back in her head. It is as though she achieves an alternate plane, to which we are all invited as witnesses."
Lauren Warnecke, December 9, 2014
Washington Square News
REVIEW- Vangeline's performance of Quick Sand at BowieBall 2014
" Wearing a spiked interpretation of Bowie’s vermilion mullet on her head, Vangeline France of the Vangeline Theater performed a Japanese Butoh dance to “Quicksand” in the night's first live set. Her hyper-controlled movements were oddly mesmerizing, transforming the ballad into a modern art piece."
Cicek Erel, October 15, 2014
The Dance Enthusiast
Review of Vangeline's "FIFTH OF BEETHOVEN ADMIRING TATSUMI HIJIKATA"
at the 9th Asheville Butoh Festival
September 23, 2014
by Theatre critic Ken Fitch
"...striking, lean monumentality...It is quite an extraordinary and ultimately astounding correspondence to bridge the Far Eastern devastation from which Butoh emerged, with the intensively experienced equivalent of the European Battle Theater that, in core areas, was equally decimated in physical and cultural fragmentation.
In this work, this performer almost demonically ghost driven, embodying the forces of collective and self cultural annihilation, then becomes compelled to witness the forces she has unleashed and then takes it all on and in with a smoldering intensity of residual horror, stepping back from the abyss and the terror that resides there holding only the baton that is light to lead us through an enveloping darkness."
Review- Japanculturenyc.org- the Dream a Dream Project
by Susan Hamaker on July 16, 2013
" A triumph"
Review- Hyperallergic Magazine- Spectral: The Ghost Dance of Butoh
by David LaGaccia on March 4, 2013
"a terrific visual experience... extremely well done..the dance of darkness became a dance of light"
TIME OUT CHICAGO BEST DANCE VISIT 2011
Honorable mentions: Best dance visits | 2011 in review
Posted in Unscripted blog by Zachary Whittenburg on Dec 28, 2011 at 8:00am
" Her solo, SPECTRAL, which she performed shaking violently, in a heavy white dress, holding a piece of twine and with both eyes rolled back into her skull, was bone-chilling "
THEATER IN LOS ANGELES: THE BEST OF 2011
by John Topping on January 1, 2012
LAST BUT NEVER LEAST -THE BEST PERFORMANCES OF THE YEAR:
"the way in which Vangeline moved in David J’s The Chanteuse and the Devil’s Muse was transfixing."
Review- Los Angeles - "La Chanteuse and Devil's Muse" performance at Bootleg Theater
Jason Rohrer- Stage Happenings.com
"Yes: yes: see Vangeline. She's not in L.A. very often, so see her do this. Then go to New York and see her do something else. This is an artist fully and transparently in control of her medium.......so it is Vangeline as the Ghost of Elizabeth Short who really owns this show, upstaging all other action and reminding me that if I go to the theater often enough, I will be amazed."
Review- LA Weekly- Pick of the week- Pauline Adamek
"GO THE CHANTEUSE AND THE DEVIL'S MUSE
"Best is the Butoh dance sequence brilliantly performed throughout by Vangeline. Dressed in white tulle like a demented ballerina-bride, with blackened eyes, powdered skin and a grotesque grimace, she embodies the tormented spirit of Short, whose lingering presence slowly builds to a cathartic climax. (Pauline Adamek)"
LOS ANGELES TIMES-Theater Review: " The Chanteuse and Devil's Muse at the Bootleg"
September 15, 2011
"As the murdered Elizabeth Short, Vangeline, mute and ghastly in a wedding dress, moves with the clockwork deliberation of a practiced Japanese butoh artist"
F. Kathleen Foley
HITS Daily Double:
"Vangeline hovers around the scene like a cross between a goth crone and a kabuki"
www.stageandcinema.com-Los Angeles Theater Review:
"Butoh artist Vangeline performs hypnotic doll-like movements with scarily electrifying results"
The New York Times
May 27, 2008
Grotesquerie and Ecstasy, on Street and Stage
By CLAUDIA LA ROCCO
"Vangeline was captivating in her devotion to simple movements."
Review of "Atomic Sunshine" at the Puffin Room
"The film screening of Steven Okazaki’s White Light, Black Rain was significant. This was the first documentary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki broadcast on American television. It broadly familiarized Americans with the reality of the atomic bombings.
After the film screening, the Vangeline Theater performed Butoh, a contemporary dance form recognized worldwide as an important artistic expression that emerged from Japanese postwar culture. To see the Butoh performance by an American troupe right after the documentary of the atomic bombings was very powerful."
Posted on March 17, 2008.
NEW YORK TIMES
October 22, 2006
Is Butoh’s Big Season Good for Butoh?
By CLAUDIA LA ROCCO
ELEVEN students were walking backward in a crouch, eyes closed, with raw eggs cradled in their mouths and potatoes wedged between their thighs. The smell of stale perspiration pervaded the hot room in a yoga studio in Chelsea.
“Imagine you are an old woman, going closer to the floor, still protecting this fragile part of you,” the teacher directed in a soft French accent, referring to the egg. “Little by little, you are going to find someone and exchange the potato, from your perineum to theirs. Find a way, as organically as possible. This is not your civilized self.”
Her students groped and grimaced, trailing saliva. Two women sank to the carpet. Potatoes were exchanged.
The exercise was part of a weekly mixed-level class in Butoh, a way of approaching dance that developed in Japan half a century ago. Since the 1980’s, Butoh has spread like ripples of water radiating from a dropped stone. But what exactly it is, or was, remains teasingly indefinable. Ripples are difficult to capture, and the stone itself, like any moving object, is equally elusive.
“The question on everybody’s mind today is: Can it be called Butoh if it’s not from Japan?” wrote Vangeline, the New York-based dancer who teaches the Chelsea workshop, in a recent e-mail message. “Can we call ourselves ‘Butoh artists’? How can we allow Butoh to evolve, and not preserve it as if it were in a museum?”
At one point during the class, she asked her students: “How can we exchange in life in a new way, and onstage in a new way? We need to train in an unconventional way.”
Vangeline has been studying Butoh for just five years. She incorporates guided-imagery techniques (think egg) with exercises she learned from Japanese masters and the Mexico-based Diego Piñón, who incorporates his country’s rituals and traditions into his particular form of Butoh. He in turn studied extensively with one of Butoh’s founders, Kazuo Ohno, who turns 100 on Friday.
Along with choreographers like Celeste Hastings, who first learned Butoh as a member of Poppo Shiraishi’s company and now heads the spooky yet satirical Butoh Rockettes, Vangeline is part of a thriving Butoh community in New York, fed by workshops, performances and the New York Butoh Festival, which takes place every two years and is run by the CAVE Organization, an experimental art space in Williamsburg.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
HAMPTON FANCHER, writer of cult movie BLADE RUNNER, on Vangeline:
In the geometry of her motion there is a purity of air clean as negative space that defines the expectations of shapes to come. The transformations her contours unpredictably create play out beyond the narrative boarders of even non-traditional dance, but never beyond the idioms of grace.
The overlapping of one gesture to the next is at once seamless and disjointed, as of stringless puppets, skin-jobs celebrating the stoicisms of slaves.
There are no boastful displays of athletic feats, rather her works are made of undercurrents that are at once cunning and receptive, not so much a discipline of muscle than of luminosity.
The Furies of her creations flirt with making morbid fun of themselves, precise and crazy as falling down a flight of stairs.
Too often what disappoints in watching dance is that it lacks an inside, the living domaine within, in a word, intimacy.
But Vangeline is outside is inside.
It is hard to say what we truely mean, but in dance it can be done, like poetry. Poetry in motion.
Any inch of her body, winged or arrested is poignant, even perfectly still she owns the velocity of a halted panther anticipating a lethal chase. Clairvoyant, intimate and strange. Personal. Autobiographical I think. She opens something that invites you in but closes the door before you can assess the significance of what exactly it was that happened in there. As Ezra Pound once said, Art which stays news is art in which the question, what does it mean has no correct answer? Though her work is informed by fugitive touches of what in flamenco is called Duende?
It is the goblins of Butoh that animate the fix and flash of it most.
As in all great art it is immediate and dream-like, the rapid transmutations of beauty, loss and sex. Her moves are the ancestors of dreams, deliberate but laconic. Always with her the dance is more important than the dancer and yet to witness her work is to inhabit her dream. And in this ether the floating swan is up for grabs “ Elmer Fudd plays cards with Kubla Khan”.
As someone once said that God said: he loves us when we work, but adores us when we dance. If there were a god-damned god he’d be whistling at Vangeline.”
July 20th, 2005
Tetsuro Fukuhara, second generation Butoh Master:
“From my view point, Vangeline is one of the expected choreographers for our next dance scenes in our world. She is rich in ideas, she have very nice thoughts, techniques, activities, and particularly she has an originality and an aura as a founder.
Particularly I love her works, “Plastic Queens” and “White Fencing”. I feel very sensitive but stunning, hidden several beauties on the women’s movements, sometimes dancers are like a new machine with a new soul.
These works are little bit a secret flower and a secret ceremony, but same time these works are opened to every audiences in our society. I think this kind of delicate feeling and drama system is a character of her work.”
Japan, December 5, 2005