5 min

Butoh-A-Go-Go goes to Moscow

Dancer Kevin Bergsma loves the artistic licence of Butoh

IT'S ABOUT ATTITUDE. Kevin Bergsma looks for the silver lining in dark clouds as he goes through life. Next, he'll go to Moscow to perform Butoh Credit: Matthew Lester

Michael Venus: So, first of all, how are you?

Kevin Bergsma: I am great. It’s funny-the people who know me are shocked when I say anything less than ‘great.’ It’s this Pollyanna, “It’s all good” kind of attitude I have. Like, I get my heart broken, ripped from my chest, thrown to the ground and danced on, I mean absolutely shattered, and while I am a slobbering mess I think, “At least I know I have a heart and that it is working.”

Michael Venus: What exactly is Butoh?

KB: Butoh is a kind of dance. Originally the dance of the dead. It comes from post-Hiroshima Japan. A combination of traditional Noh and Kabuki with a strong dose of modern German expressionism. Visually, it can be both ugly and beautiful. Like a chicken running around after having its head cut off-both grotesque and fascinating at the same time. A common characteristic is the concentration level of the artists and their very slow, sloth-slow movement. The performers work with mental images as diverse as meat hooks through the head to a mouth full of dandelion seeds. The subsequent effect is surreal, ideally.

MV: Why do you dig it so much?

KB: I am not really sure. I think its freedom is a big attraction for me. It continues to be defined by those practicing it. It’s not bogged down with any hard and fast rules. Pretty much anything goes. You gotta love that in an art form! Also, it dances on the realm of dream territory, which gives us all kinds of artistic licence. Yup, it’s the freedom.

MV: Let us in on your upcoming visit to Moscow and what exactly Butoh-A-Go-Go is all about.

KB: Thomas Anfield, my creative partner, and I have been invited by Ballet Muskova for its fifth festival in contemporary dance. It all began with an email I received in the summer of 2003. It actually had a sentence that went, “We kindly ask you to send us video of the spectacular in independence of your decision concerning participation in festival.” We leave May 29. We will be teaching a week-long workshop and performing a brand new work, The Narthex.

Butoh-A-Go-Go is a next generation Butoh/performance company. In 1999 Thomas Anfield, visual artist/multi-discipline performance artist (now showing and represented by the Elliott Louis Gallery), and I were working with Vancouver’s premier Butoh/modern dance company, Kokoro. Their work totally inspired us to branch out to create our own multi-disciplinary performance pieces. The first adventure was a structured improvisation at the Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park, with a third performer, Salome Diaz. Over the years we have performed at Public Dreams events, numerous art galleries and last year, Lacuna at Press Play III, which was presented at the Scotia Dance Centre.

Right now, we are in the middle of a 10-week development period of The Narthex and our Moscow workshop. We have been rehearsing in graveyards, around Queen Elizabeth Park, in the Endowment Lands and at other natural/outdoor settings (aka we are on a tight budget). Our process also includes studying one morning a week with Qigong master, Li Rong. Thomas has masterfully crafted the soundscape using our voices and his own haunting steel guitar playing. The piece is a life affirming ritual incorporating both movement and voice.

MV: Now what will be happening at your two upcoming Vancouver based fundraisers for the Russian adventure?

KB: Actually, we’re going with one fundraiser in two parts on May 22 at the funky alternative space, 1067. Beginning at 10 pm, Thomas Anfield will be conducting the Post Cecil Taylor Garage Music Orchestra while painting. Orchestra members include Danny Kane, Kate Hammett-Vaughan, John Korsrud, Ron Samworth, myself and other not yet confirmed artists.

Then at 11:30 pm, I will be hosting the To Moscow With Love cabaret as my cross-dressing caricature, Crushed Velvet. Performers will include Mark Barube, Di Kotomi, Gina Haze, Lesley Pomeroy and others. We are hoping to raise some money to cover our costs. The Ballet Moskova is covering our expenses in Moscow and, fortunately, Canada Council for the Arts’ inter-arts office has granted us travel money to cover the airfare, but there are many other expenses we need to cover.

MV: What other kinds of dance are you into?

KB: I like a huge range of dance and have done many styles-from Vegas-style show dancing to roll-in-the-mud modern dance. My present preference is the Butoh modern meld Thomas and I are exploring.

MV: How did you get into dancing?

KB: I began dancing when I was 15. I went to the dance audition for my high school’s production of Oklahoma. In small town St Catharines, Ontario I was the only boy to show up-I got the lead dance role, Dream Curly. Since then I worked a number of years in musical theatre doing roles like Rolf Gruber in Sound of Music or Simon of Legree in The King and I. When I moved to Vancouver in 1995, I immersed myself in modern dance, studying independently at Harbour Dance Studios and working with local companies, Kokoro, Vancouver Dance Theatre, KaBoom! and doing the odd film or TV show with choreographer Viktoria Langton. It’s an ongoing process. My hope is to continually accumulate becoming a more artful performer.

MV: Would you consider yourself somewhat of an exhibitionist?

KB: Yes and no. I think I may be perceived as one-I dance about all the time, very often with nothing or little on, and socially I am known to wear loud colours. But I was talking to Thomas about this today; we feel that exhibitionism is when showing off or showing your body is your sexual thing. Performing is fulfilling, but not in a sexual way to me. However, I am not exactly an introvert.

MV: What are some of your other passions?

KB: People, humanity, peace, love, the planet. Typical West Coast stuff. Well, typical if you are not Gordon Campbell. I am also a bit of a technophile, aka a computer nerd.

MV: In a brief nutshell tell us a bit about your past and what brought you to where you are now.

KB: I was born in small southern Ontario town, the youngest in a family of four boys and two girls to Dutch-Canadian parents. I was on my own early and have spent most of my adult life in one of four longterm relationships, the last of which was the catalyst that brought me to Vancouver. Family, the people I have loved and continue to love, my many adventures around the world, everyone I have ever met: these things add up to equal me. My goal has remained constant-seek happiness. It’s a life’s work.

MV: Have you ever danced for a lover?

KB: Life’s a dance. …

MV: Do you think from being so limbre, flexible and muscular from dance has increased your sex drive?

KB: I have nothing to compare it to.

MV: Tell me a secret.

KB: I have danced for all my lovers and being limbre, flexible and muscular doesn’t hurt.

MV: Any lasting words to the wise?

KB: Eat your vegetables!

MV: Thanks a lot, and have a blast in Moscow.