One evening at PLAN B, Tokyo
17 October 2000
Duo: Steve Lacy / Min Tanaka (Butoh dancer)

Although both Tanaka and Lacy had already performed together before in 1978 (at the Musée des Arts décoratifs and at the Chapelle des Lombards in Paris) and also at Zojo-Ji in 1983, the reunion was “unconventional” and kind of “eccentric”. A completely different experience from the Egg Farm venue, it was a rather perplexing experience, as the interaction did appear difficult to develop smoothly.

Butoh Dance is unorthodox, a very special form of avant-garde Japanese dance, originating from meditation and martial arts, “created” by Hijikata Tatsumi in the 1960s. According to notes from Itto Kasai, a choreographer of Butoh, “movements come out unconsciously when one feels like moving; as such, the movements have already emotional values without any intention to try to express something. Butoh is thus a transformational process of the space with the dancer’s body and mind. It is not remembering movement sequence, but an experimentation of confrontation of three factors: body, mind, and the outer world (sound, stage and lighting). It involves movement, theatric faces, rolling back eyes either as a conscious expression of something unsociable and grotesque, or as a natural occurring during performance”, end of quote.

Legendary Butoh dancer Min Tanaka is certainly one of the most famous and remarkable artist of the genre. He is reported to have recently “danced” in a Tokyo parking lot, going / crawling ever so slowly on the ground in a straight line, climbing over any obstacle in his path (cars, curbs, motorcycles, bushes, fences), for over an hour and a half. Obviously, quite an unusual art form.

Also unusual and out-of-the-way is Plan “B”. It is a cave-like performing space, with barren, rough textured, reinforced concrete walls (which incidentally brought strange thoughts of the bomb shelters popular in the USA during the cold war). Very austere indeed… and not so easy to find… Even Lacy’s local agent (although residing in Tokyo for 23 years) had difficulties finding the place, as some streets bear no names, and buildings carry no street numbers…

The performing cave is a bit like an industrial raw “basement loft”. Very basic and unpretentious, it is clearly a place for experimental artistic events allowing maximum flexible use of limited floor space. A few uncomfortable bleachers, made of plain wood planks, climb directly to the lighting/ sound engineer’s corner, part of the space itself. For the performance, which was remarkably well attended, additional small square black cushions were carefully / equally spaced on a bamboo mat laid on the rough wooden floor, and accounted for well over half of the cramped seats available (about 120 total). These were accessible to the spectators only after the removal of their shoes, in a most Japanese tradition. The place was packed.

The program – a complete improvisational blend of music and dance -- was briefly and informally discussed a few minutes before the performance, and was basically adhered to. Lacy started solo, playing / improvising on various original compositions for some 20 minutes, including Herbe de l’oubli (and the associated tunes part of its five song-cycle), which had not been performed in quite some time… Min Tanaka followed, alone, without any stage costume, without any make-up, wearing a simple black turtleneck sweater and dark trousers, barefoot, moving in absolute silence, which made the “perception” of his moves all the more difficult to properly appreciate. This art form is so much more difficult to understand than watching a mime or a silent movie as there is no reference point whatsoever… The “understanding” seems to come as “a” possible result of the link between abstraction of movements and individual meaning given by the spectators to what is being seen and the way movement is being perceived.

The duo improvisation stretched out much longer than planned. Music and dance seemed at times so far apart. Lacy played using lots of sonic tools: licks, double tonguing, warped notes, muted growls, descending to the irregular low “G” of the soprano muffling the bell of his horn against his calf. It sounded stunningly colorful with eyes closed, but the interaction with the dancer, which was supposed to happen and to be watched, seemed hard to establish and be convincing. It was difficult to sense whether Lacy was playing in reaction to the dancer’s movements, or if Tanaka was improvising in reaction to the musician’s explorations.

As the “free” improvisation did not seem to produce the “expected” results (if there was any to expect!), Lacy slowly switched to more “traditional” melodic lines, selecting the dark theme and chords of his moving composition, Longing. He played it in an obsessively repeated fashion, varying its phrasing through permutations of notes and uneven groups of notes. It was a good choice. Suddenly, it became so much easier to relate to the emotions and movements expressed by the dancer. It permitted at long last to bring a progressive but final withdrawal of both music and dance to a quiet serenity, and bring to rest what was a very abstract and definitely odd interplay.

All throughout the performance, despite the lack of proper ventilation (everyone was sweating heavily), there was impressive total silence, total reverence from the audience to the performers. Spectators related effortlessly to the art form, an unsettling spectacle, on the fringe of the bizarre.

Steve Lacy, Didier Boyet - photo © G.L.

The Tunes:

Four days at the EGG FARM, Saitama

13 October 2000
Duo: Steve Lacy / Masahiko Togashi

First set
# Title Composer Dur.
1/ The Crust Steve Lacy 4:24
2/ Unbalanced Masahiko Togashi 5:38
3/ Longing Steve Lacy 7:07
4/ In The Pot Masahiko Togashi 5:31
5/ Tina’s Tune Steve Lacy 6:17
6/ The Door Steve Lacy 6:15
7/ Orange Masahiko Togashi 7:05
Second set
# Title Composer Dur.
1/ Friday the 13th Thelonious Monk 7:25
2/ Blues for Aida Steve Lacy 7:13
3/ Trial Masahiko Togashi 8:40
4/ Retreat Steve Lacy 7:19
5/ Epistrophy Thelonious Monk 6:40
6/ Blinks Steve Lacy 6:04
7/ Encore: The Duck Steve Lacy 5:12

14 October 2000
Duo: Steve Lacy / Haruna Miyake

First set:

Second set:

15 October 2000
Matinee - Solo: Steve Lacy

First set: Ten of Dukes
Title Composer Dur.
1/ In a Mellowtone Duke Ellington 3:36
2/ The Mooche 3:42
3/ Morning Glory 3:34
4/ Prelude to a Kiss 4:32
5/ Portrait of Bert Williams 3:14
6/ Azure 2:49
7/ Cottontail 2:30
8/ In a Sentimental Mood 4:00
9/ Koko 3:28
10/ To The Bitter 3:36
Second set
Title Composer / Author Dur.
1/ Art Steve Lacy / Herman Melville 6:07
2/ Gospel Steve Lacy 4:10
3/ Round about midnite 4:20
4/ Wave Lover 4:45
5/ The Breath (from Tao) 4:30
6/ Traces Steve Lacy / Ryokan 6:08

15 October 2000
Evening - Trio: Steve Lacy / Masahiko Satoh / Masahiko Togashi

First set
# Title Composer Dur.
1/ Epistrophy Thelonious Monk
2/ Reflections
3/ Tina’s Tune Steve Lacy
4/ Name (from Tao)
5/ Unbalanced Masahiko Togashi
Second set
# Title Composer Dur.
1/ Flakes Steve Lacy
2/ In The Pot Masahiko Togashi
3/ Grey Blue Steve Lacy
4/ Deadline
5/ Blinks
6/ Encore: Blues For Aida

16 October 2000
Trio: Steve Lacy / Yuji Takahashi / Masahiko Togashi

First set:

Second set:

One evening at PLAN B, Tokyo

17 October 2000
Steve Lacy / Min Tanaka

Gilles Laheurte