Born out of the nihilism of the atomic bomb, butoh is a Japanese form of dance that eludes simple definition. It explores notions of the primordial self in a modern world, protests changing paradigms, and looks deep into the darker and more uncomfortable aspects of humanity. Common tropes in the physical technique of the dance include stark white makeup, excruciatingly slow movements, and unnatural and taboo body positions (the silent scream, for example, perhaps inspiring the ghosts in The Grudge).
For butoh dancer and video director Caroline Haydon, it forms the basis for Siksya, a glitchy, unnerving, and mesmerizingly slow dance film set to the music of Clem Right. In it, various female figures (all performed by Haydon herself) shudder, sigh, and dance, while all the shades that black and white can be undulate around and frame the hypnosis.
Haydon describes the inspiration for the piece as a “strong image in [her] mind of a woman ‘made of clay,’ so to speak, living in a stark and sterile environment. She catches sight of herself which sparks the realization that she is ‘disappearing,’ and losing her ability to ‘feel.’ She is then faced with the choice of either re-discovering her sensory experience and facing her reality, or remaining in her illusions and fading into the cold environment she exists within.”
The project was created in collaboration with artists Hirad Sab and Dalena Tran doing the VFX compositing and overlays. For Haydon, it was “an opportunity to explore the concepts of isolation vs. community, and a desensitization to suffering. I am always fascinated by the human mind and our ability to 'tune out' anything we don’t necessarily want to face, on both a personal and a global scale—our power to exist within a vacuum simply by ignoring the suffering surrounding us, and the effect that voluntary ignorance has on our compassion and our sense of reality.”
"What has always compelled me about butoh is what I call the ‘ancient familiarity,’" she continues, "a recognition of the performer’s journey that is deeply understood but that cannot be put into words. I am intrigued by how butoh converses with other mediums of art, and how the traditions of the form speak to our contemporary world.”
Watch Siksya above, and see more of Caroline Haydon’s work on her website.