Sumner artist Katrina Wolfe combines dance, theater and meditation in her performances of butoh, a hard-to-define art form born in Japan in the 1950s.
Butoh, the combination of dance, theater and meditation, is not for everyone.And performance artist Katrina Wolfe acknowledges her pieces are not for everyone. In her small Sumner theater, El Teatro Osminog Blanco, 16 garments in various states of decay or fragmentation are suspended from the ceiling by string and clothespins. The walls and ceiling are white, and the floor is pale and mottled. As the light rises from total darkness, a tight bundle of lace is spotlighted in the center of this space. A foot emerges, then another, then a glimpse of Wolfe’s face. She writhes, contorts and emerges from the garment. A spotlight at the back creates a stark shadow reinforcing her movements. What’s going on here? Is it a cocoon? Is this a representation of birth? There will be no answers for the next hour, only the evolution of the dance — called “The Rag Picker” — involving all 16 garments. Wolfe found many as discards in the street. Music from a wooden flute, silver flute, bells and guitars accompanies the piece. Butoh was born in Japan in the 1950s, mainly as an underground dance. The art form is difficult to define. “It’s already strange,” Wolfe says. “I don’t try to make it less strange.” She sees butoh as a “process of purification for the performer and the audience.” Every day she meditates, at the minimum, two hours. Every day she dances, at the minimum, two hours. “Once I’m concentrating, I can do this for eight hours.” Wolfe, 31, studied with Atsushi Takenouchi, a butoh dancer known for his solo pieces, and Joan Laage, local teacher and performer. She lived in India for nine months and became a figurative sculptor, then a busker, occasionally doing butoh at Pike Place Market. She’s moved now to more abstract forms. “I want to keep it magical and surreal.” As the “The Rag Picker” proceeds, each piece of fabric is lowered and involved. Wolfe extends herself and the fabrics. A dozen canning jars tied together are dragged across the floor. It’s an eerie, disturbing sound. “My goal is to wake up the senses. Everyone has a different experience.” Right now, for the many who have not seen butoh, “the audience is SO quiet.”