Insights into butoh in Malaysia

Ancient poetry and birds come to roost in a butoh creation with Yeow Lai Chee.

The Dead Bird

When: Dec 14-15, 2018, 8.30pm

Where: Pentas 2, KLpac

Tickets: RM58 (normal)/RM30 (students, disabled, seniros)

Call 03 4047 9000 or 010 4289 528

Talk: The Meeting point between Butoh & Contemporary Dance

When: Dec 15, 2pm-4pm

Where: Pentas 2, KLpac

Speakers:  Yeow Lai Chee and Lau Beh Chin

Moderator: Foo Chiwei

For details, call / 010 4289 528 or email to

BIRDS caught the attention of butoh dancer-choreographer Yeow Lai Chee when undergoing a meditation retreat a few years ago.

Yeow Lai Chee. All pix courtesy of Soubhi Sha

“What was the significance when I meditated and saw a dead bird in the heart? It was surrounded by a blue light… Then at a retreat in Pulau Kapas, an owl kept following me. I felt scared, and I turned back. I flew in front of me and grabbed my shoulder. I wondered about any significance and read about birds. It may have been a message of loss. Two weeks later, my butoh master in Japan, Yukio Waguri, died,” says Yeow.

“I didn’t know how to continue my dance without my master. I wanted to quit but something grabbed me back. Butoh is about searching yourself, and body through dance.”

Yeow has no formal training in dance, before taking up butoh in 2009 under Nyoba Kan. She first saw her master Waguri perform at PJ Live Arts centre. “He stood still on the stage with a fierce expression. It created a strong and mysterious atmosphere. He was only standing and not moving… it was so powerful… it totally changed my perception of dance. I asked to be his student, and he says, why not,” recalls the 39-year-old during a chat on her upcoming production called “The Dead Bird”.

Yeow, leaving Nyoba Kan, formed Soubi Sha with Waguri has her mentor. “The Dead Bird”, funded by MyDance Alliance, will combine butoh and contemporary dance genres, and is a work dedicated to Waguri.

All the incidents and thoughts about birds lead Yeow to much research.

“Then I came across Ibn Arabica’s text dealing with birds. It spoke to me, it’s about four birds, which I believe represent personality and character traits.”

“To me, it is about element of duality,” says the Tunku Abdul Rahman University College lecturer.

For example, the crow, she said, was about intellect and the opposite of that was the ego.

“The Dead Bird” will adopt the structure and the existence of the four birds from Ibn Arabi’s “The Universal Tree and the Four Birds”.

Ibn Arabi’s text in question is:

“From my incompleteness to my completeness, and from my inclination to my equilibrium.

From my grandeur to my beauty, and from my splendour to my majesty.

From my scattering to my gathering, and from my exclusion to my reunion.

From my baseness to my preciousness, and from my stones to my pearls.

So that I might bring to light what lies hidden in night’s core.”

She hopes to explore in “The Dead Bird’ the concept of death with the audience.

The four birds in The Dead Bird are the ringed dove, performed by Lee Ren Xin), the eagle (by Boyz Chew), the crow (by Foo Chiwei) and the anqa/phoenix (by Lee Choy Wan). Dancer-choreographer J.S. Wong will the dramaturg.

For Yeow, butoh is a path to search who she is.

“What is it to be human, what is life? What is death? I keep searching these from butoh. Butoh is real and honest. With butoh, I see dance differently, the presence of the body.

“Dance is not about movement, but the dance itself — from the body’s memory and dancer’s experience, the relationship between the space and the dance body that create the size and speed, and the different materials of the body that the dancer can transform to.”

She espouses the use of white powder, as Waguri himself did not use in 2014.

“I want to try and try more, to find what new butoh can be. I am at that stage of redefining butoh for myself. The body itself is butoh skin. Butoh uncovered. Butoh naked. It’s a process.”

** This article appeared in the NST



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