"When butoh is working well, the viewer begins to tremble -- it's a very direct transmission," says Ephia, one half of the Albuquerque-based performance group whose name means "metamorphosis" in Javanese. Ephia performs a spare, sometimes disturbing avant-garde dance form that originated in postwar Japan, while her partner Jeff Gburek creates exotic, experimental music.
Myopia, Djalma's newest piece, is based on the "theme of teetering on the edge of puberty," explains Ephia, who dances the part of a gawky young girl confused by life's turbulent transition.
While Ephia spent time in Japan studying with both cutting-edge choreographer Min Tanaka and the legendary Kazuo Ohno (who co-founded butoh with Tatsumi Hijikata), she doesn't mimic butoh's traditional forms. "Hijikata's sentiment was that butoh should always be remaking itself, always destroying itself," she says. "The real challenge is to take it on the grounds we stand on today."
Butoh came out of "a feeling that the pace of modernity was moving too fast," Ephia says, and was "a move back to a sense of body in connection with the earth, a darker sense of beauty." Today, there's a similar global reaction to hyper-Westernization and hyper-modernity, she adds. "Except the sad thing is the same kind of revolutionary forces aren't in the art world today."
Ephia and Gburek improvise their performances for maximum impact. "Part of the potency of butoh is its connection to improvisation," Ephia says. "It manipulates time and atmosphere, hence it manipulates emotion." Where and when it takes place, as well as who's watching, all contribute to the experience.
Expect an unsettling conclusion. "I would never want to end a piece with a sense of equilibrium. When do we ever have a sense of equilibrium in our lives?" Ephia asks. "The scales are always tipping."