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The opening salvo in a pair of festivals celebrating buhto – which means “dance” or “dance stomp” – was Japanese choreographer Kumotaro Muka’s all-male Tiger’s Cave: Buhto Camp. No boots here, but seven almost naked men, performing an engrossing dance that involved much grunt work and barely any of the ashen bodied, slow movements the term buhto usually evokes.
Against a backdrop of clothes lines strung with rags across the stage, the seven dancers sat quietly cross-legged in a semicircle, gradually rising to stand, backs to the audience. At first the movement was simple: a jump or a subtle rotation of the hips. Thereafter the body shapes changed quickly and vigorously, collapsing to the floor, undulating like dolphins or writhing gymnastically. Far from being impassively solemn, these dancers occasionally uttered a shout and even smiled.
A dancer in thigh-long tights shouldering a boom box, a knapsack and sipping from a demi-tasse then jauntily trucked in to jive to his radio. He gave the seven jiggling, twitching, corps de ballet miniature tourist gifts such as a tricolore and an Eiffel Tower. Flaunting their trophies the dancers vogued to the footlights, posing like models. A phone rang: several took turns to listen, then recoiled. All scurried to snatch rags from the lines to polish the floor.
Slowly a white-faced character (Takuya Muramatsu) with two tiny half cups the size of billiard balls attached to his feet, stumbled on, teetering around. Far off a familiar zarzuela played, a reference perhaps to the father of buhto, Kazuo Ohno, (now aged 101) and his admiration for flamenco dancer La Argentina.
With Muramatsu strung over a washing line it was now the turn of another ashen faced character to perform a lengthy solo, ending in him snatching a red cloth off a line and inserting it in the mouth of the inert Muramatsu.
And so this performance of apparent non sequiturs progressed, culminating in Mukai, costumed in a black kimono and wearing a huge beehive wig, moving slowly and gravely to a recording of Janis Joplin singing Gershwin’s “Summertime”, bringing this oddly entertaining performance to a close.