Dance / Renyo / Tomoe Shizune King's Theatre

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Renyo / Tomoe Shizune

King's Theatre

No sooner have we learnt the rules of a new game than somebody comes along to change them. Practitioners of butoh, the form of theatre invented in the 1960s by Japan's post-Hiroshima generation, customarily perform half naked, their bodies and faces painted white. Disconcerting, but a potent metaphor of humanity's sad plight.

Tomoe Shizune, founder of the group Hakutobo, has done away with all that, hoping thus to bring out the cast's individual qualities. If he has gained anything in expressiveness, he has lost something of the intensity that butoh usually provides. Except, that is, in the playing of the central role: a woman dressed in orange who seems possessed by visions.

The cast list, curiously, does not identify her, but from some biographical notes, it appears that she is the r named Akeno. Her performance is extraordinary. Just what visions she is seeing, we can only guess, and the title RENYO - Far from the Lotus tells a Western audience little. But the implication of the programme notes, and of the whole atmosphere, is that her experience is of a religious nature.

She moves about the stage very slowly, her knees bent under her in a kind of half-squatting shuffle. Hands, moved into ritual positions, reinforce the sense of observing life that comes mainly from her eyes, even when their lids droop (no wonder Shizune writes of wanting "eyes all over the body").

What she sees sometimes brings a beatific smile to her face; at other moments, her mouth drops wide open in horror. Once she is struck down on her side, her limbs scrabbling like an insect trying to right itself. Does she achieve any final enlightenment? I think not: it is experience through time that really seems to interest Shizune.

Surprisingly, given his wish to reveal individuality, he treats the other four women in the cast as a kind of backing group, all doing much the same thing as each other and her during the central character's rests. There are also two shadowy men who may be guardians or observers, and two brief entries at the beginning and end by Shizune himself as an awe- inspiring figure who exhorts or threatens the heroine.

This Shizune must be a busy man, credited with the directing, choreography, stage-design and music. It might have been better if he had left the music to someone else. His score consists of thumpy little synthesiser rhythms, endlessly repeated, and numbingly trivial. Its pointlessness is made even clearer when the aural drivel continues throughout the curtain calls. I found myself longing for the sound of heavy rainfall which drowned out the music at the end of each episode during the 80-minute drama.

Renyo: a different, but none the less captivating style of butoh