Butoh New York

Vangeline on Elemental Podcast - Extra: Effort

Art matters. But why? A podcast series investigating the elements needed for artistic expression in an urgent political climate. We talk. And listen. The prequel to Season 1 premieres December 4, 2016. Season 1 proper premieres January 22, 2017.

Vangeline, Artistic Director of Vangeline Theater and founder of the New York Butoh Institute discusses the importance of balance, impact, and effort. Her recent piece Wake Up and Smell the Coffee used upwards of 1000 used coffee cups collected around New York City to address the waste we generate and our loss of effort in the need to address the issue.

EXTRA: EFFORT by ELEMENTAL is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

LISTEN TO VANGELINE ON ELEMENTAL PODCAST ON : https://www.elementalcast.com/

Photo Benjamin Heller _ Vangeline Theater - Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Photo Benjamin Heller _ Vangeline Theater - Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Village Voice Exclusive: Vangeline Theater and Leverage Models in "Senators"

Exclusive: Leverage Models Bring Butoh to the Table in "Senators"

Monday, May 2, 2016 at 3:30 p.m.

By By Lindsey Rhoades


Leverage Models' Alena Spanger (L) and Shannon Fields

Seeing Leverage Models live is like watching a fireworks display. Frontman Shannon Fields is a powder keg of nervous energy, belting words through a megaphone, jangling a tambourine, and flailing through the crowd. He doesn’t dance so much as combust. The unbridled gusto is partially inspired by the tent revivals Fields attended in his youth, where worshippers spoke in tongues. "I have nothing to do with that belief system anymore," he says, "[but] there’s something physically and emotionally that I carry with me, kind of my default mode."

Fields’s exodus from the faith involved an element most don’t: butoh. Isolated in a deeply religious Pentecostal community, a teenage Fields came across photos of pioneering performer Tanaka Min in a Japanese magazine he was using for a school assignment. Tanaka wore little but white body paint, contorting his vulnerable body in public spaces. "It felt like looking at a kind of porn," but without the guilt and shame that his upbringing attached to desire, says Fields. "I felt embarrassed and confused and excited by it. Not sexually, but artistically. My imagination went supernova."

Butoh is how Fields learned art could use abstraction to reach emotional truth, but its influence on Leverage Models has not been explicit — until today. The Village Voice is pleased to post the exclusive premiere of the band’s video for their new song “Senators,” which features choreography from butoh performer Vangeline France.

"Senators" began as a way for Fields to confront his discomfort in social situations. He observed the transactional, getting-to-know-you conversations going on around him and started writing snippets of dialogue, which he turned into disjointed lyrics. "I’m paralyzed by small talk, and interested and fascinated in it because of that," he says. "There’s something obviously political about that [transactional] way of having a conversation. That simple, declarative language seemed like the language of government, the language of business – powerful, direct."


This image of polished professionals became the inspiration for the "Senators" video. As he was falling asleep one night, Fields envisioned himself and Alena Spanger, the other singer in "Senators," in an exaggerated debate. "People in a business negation use control in their facial expressions and bodies to project power," says Fields. "All of a sudden I thought, 'Oh, this is butoh!' — the way that form of dance abstracts the body and finds a sort of dream logic."

But Fields didn’t know any performers, so a friend connected him with Vangeline, a French-American butoh dancer. Like Fields, she came to butoh unexpectedly, when a friend took her to BAM to see internationally renowned butoh troupe Sankai Juku. Butoh’s acknowledgement of darkness spoke to her. "We all have [primitive] energies inside of us, [but] most of us have been socialized to repress them," Vangeline says. "In butoh we give them an arbitrary expression…. We’re giving a voice to the Genie in the bottle, and then [putting] it back in."

To make the video, Vangeline and one of her principal dancers, Azumi, worked through long takes to keep their almost imperceptible movements authentic despite wearing the less-than-authentic costume of contemporary business suits. Their tension mirrors the stilted mannerisms of family dinners or first dates, and as the video progresses, flickers of surreal, traditional butoh encroach upon this modern scene, all gnarled limbs and ashen makeup. This is the brilliance of the video: It reflects the sinister, or at least uncomfortable, truths that can lie just beneath the surface of our social interactions. Both butoh and the song itself operate on subconscious levels, and if neither makes sense at first, the merging of Fields’s and Vangeline’s mediums brings the purpose of both into sharp focus.

It was a collaboration of like-minded artists. "He pushes himself to the limit of what is socially acceptable," Vangeline says of Fields’s unbridled performance style, which is visually the polar opposite of butoh but philosophically similar. "There’s something in him that is fearless; he doesn’t mind making himself uncomfortable. That’s such an important part of the work that we do – we have to be willing to be uncomfortable."

Leverage Models DJ at Good Room on May 3. Click here for more information and ticket




Vangeline Theater is now home to the New York Butoh Institute.

The New York Butoh Institute is dedicated to the advancement of Butoh in the 21st century, with a special emphasis on scientific research as it relates to Butoh.

While scientific evidence supports the numerous physical, psychological, and social benefits of dance; studies in Japan indicate that Butoh dance is an effective activity for promoting the health and well being of individuals.

The Japan Dance Therapy Association (JADTA) reports a growing interest in the use of Butoh therapy in promoting general well being in individuals and the community. The Butoh dance method is described as promoting deep mind/body integration with conscious/subconscious integration. Research done by the Hokkaido Technological College reported that various conditions were shown to decrease, including migraines, muscle tensions, nervous stomach conditions, sleeplessness, hypertension, kidney inflammation, and gastric ulcers. Surveys of participants indicated that following the Butoh therapy, they felt happier, better able to enjoy their work, and they felt their lives had acquired greater meaning.

The New York Butoh Institute is dedicated to researching the wide range of physical and psychological benefits of Butoh dance. We are interested in the impact of Butoh on health and well being, and in documenting what happens in the brain of people dancing butoh, as well as the effect of Butoh dance on viewers.

OUR NEXT PROJECT:  Brain Mapping for Butoh

 New imaging technologies now allow researchers to document the brain activity of Butoh dancers, and research centers are well equipped to study Butoh training and its broader neurological implications. The New York Butoh Institute will pioneer scientific studies of the brain of butoh dancers in the US and abroad. Our primary focus will be recording brain activity of first and second generation Butoh Masters from Japan, as well as brain waves of third and fourth generation practitioners from the US.

Read more here about the New York Butoh Institute.