Carlotta Ikeda

« What pushes me to dance day by day?
What is that spell, so strange and impenetrable, that works upon me?
I do not know how to answer such a simple question in a rational way.
I just unwind the Ariadone’s thread, and we throw ourselves desperately,
ambiguous and insane dancers, deprived of our names, then we come back down to
the ground. »

Carlotta Ikeda


« One day or another, all children have danced. Many do not remember.

Sanae Ikeda was born in Fukui, a village on the Japanese Sea: « I used to walk in the country, and dizzy with all the smells of the plants, with all the nuances in the atmosphere, I danced ».

The kind of dance you learn came later, in Tokyo. « Rice sprout » (Sanae) was 19 when she first went through the door of a « dance course ». But at that time, the Butô, that « dance of darkness » was born in Japan. Tatsumi Hijikata had invented it, that angel and devil who was to proclaim in 1968 the revolt of the flesh. « I was at Tokyo University, I had learned dance, worked with the classical technique, which remains the basis to know one s own body ; but then I found myself in front of a wall. Seeing Hijikata in the 70’s, I understood how I could overcome it. », confessed she, who was to become Carlotta Ikeda, named after Carlotta Grisi, famous dancer in the end of the XIXth century. Is there something, beyond the cultural and temporal differences, above styles as different as romantic ballet and Butô, a sort of absolute sprit of dance ? This may well be a sign of it.

Tatsumi Hijikataís first performances had drawn their inspiration from Genêt, Lautréamont, Sade… Consequently, Butô was first seen as something rather sulphurous. That « theatre of revulsion, convulsion, repulsion », where « crushed, larval, twisted, electric, stiff bodie » are being tormented (according to Jean Baudrillard), has been the deliberately marginal laboratory of a changing Japan, still living with the the trauma of WW II and of Hiroshima. Like other young people in her generation, Carlotta threw her body into battle. This life-long involvement can by no means be regarded as naiveorinnocent. But childish : in Carlotta Ikeda, childhood never ceased to dance. One has difficulty with such a statement looking at a photo of Carlotta in Erotic soul dance, one of her first shows on the last page of Érotique du Japon, by Théo Lesoulac. Her wideopened body, with breasts and genitals barded with ironworking tools, reminds us of some sadomasochist ordeal. But the same body is also wrapped in a paper dress: flower-woman, butterfly, there the image of birth dominates.

Essentially, Butô always cultivated the metamorphosis as essence of the Being. The body is seen both as human and animal, mineral and vegetal, new-born and dying, dark and bright. Dance is an interior voyage through various layers of time and space. « We are able to find our hidden reality, as if we were to live life and death simultaneously », said Hijikata, and he added: « we have to live with the dead, we must invite them close to our bodies ».

Border, porous: the white make-up in the Butô, like a neutral surface, makes the emotions become unpersonal, withdraws the body from concrete reality, and changes it into a white page where life and death, presence and absence exchange their densities. The face turns into a form that can be moulded without limits, with all possible expressions, like clouds in a changing sky. Writing about Tatsumi Hijikata’s preferred dancer, Yoko Ashikawa, She can turn into a wax-puppet, to marble, to mud, to an insect, to a daemon, to a witch, to a dog, a baby, a corpse. Her smile is the smile of a ghost, an old woman, a doll, a stone, a young girl, a wind ; she can express the loneliness of the soul, when all creatures keep quiet before the mystery of existence, the smile that appears to be the only way to resist the trembling of nothingness ». And Hijikata used to call these expressions of the face « Hito-gata », which is the name of the folded paper figurines which are meant to conjure up the Gods.

Whoever has seen Carlotta Ikeda dancing knows to what point she masters that art of metamorphosis, how she can make it at the same time obvious and invisible, how she can extend the time of the vision in a « slowness of movement allowing all possible interpretations » (Paul Claudel). The trembling of nothingness? « The ideal transformation would be to become what does not exist, and to become nothing one should become everything », says Ko Murobushi, choreographic alter ego of Carlotta Ikeda.

The metamorphosis at stake here is not that of an histrion, one who knows how to make a caricature out of expressive imitations. In Carlotta Ikeda, this is a change of inner state, involving the whole body. Unlike the occidental dance, where the techniques are mostly based on dissociation of the different body-parts, Butô involves the body in its organic, articular, sensitive wholeness. In an interview, Carlotta Ikeda tells about Hijikata teaching how to « abandon none of the bodyparts, turn all that is taken for insignificant into unheard-of riches ».

And that is how the miracle can occur. When Carlotta Ikeda, dances, every instant dances, even in Zarathoustra, that she revived twenty-five years after its premiere : there she is, over sixty offering her hieratic presence in her two performances, enormous and tiny at the same time, silent watch of a world swarming with savagery, where the furies have unleashed chaos. One may think, then, that her art has always been defined as this form of intense meditation, where the unseen face of the world comes to the surface and thrives in the mystery of a body.

Paradox of the dance: what she shows then is but one aspect of her presence. Even in a solo performance, the stage is « full of invisible partners », according to Mary Wigman, the pioneer of modern dance in Europe. One night, looking at her tired face of insomniac in a mirror, she decided to create Hexentanz (The witch’s dance : she wanted to meet the witch who was in her and whom she did not know yet. In an interview in 1987, Carlotta Ikeda expressed a very similar feeling:

« When I dance, there are two persons in me, living together: one in transe, that does not control itself any longer, and the other observing the first one with lucidity. Sometimes, these two « I » coincide and give birth to a sort of white madness, close to ecstasy. That is how the But™ dancer must try to feel. It s for that privileged moment that I dance.

Ariadone, the company that Carlotta Ikeda founded in 1974, refers to that Ariane s thread, that follows Carlotta Ikeda from one show to the next. As one could expect, mirror games are very often used, not for reflecting images, but to transform appearances : what is to be found on the other side of the mirror? A paradise lost? That Last Eden which was, in 1978, the show that Carlotta Ikeda first toured in Europe, together with Ko Murobushi ?

I think that the flesh of the dance, that constant metamorphosis of changing moods, can neither be photographed, nor filmed. As strange as it may seem, But™ is indeed photogenic : zooming on grinning faces, grotesque postures, white-painted bodies, can well build a row of exotic and frightening deformities. Still they are, to a certain extent, reassuring images. Laurencine Lot s photographies draw quite a different scenery. They can be humble, stay at the right distance to the dancer, letting the dancing space untouched. Silently, she has been accompanying Carlotta Ikeda step by step on her Ariane s thread. ZarathoustraUttHimè,Chii SaakoBlackgreywhite,WaitingHaru no Saiten, are shown in these pages as phases of a journey of initiation. The journey of an exceptional artist, who considers dancing as a place to be, intimate and universal.

Jean-Marc Adolphe