"The time for dancing is over, the time for sitting is now"
-- Mark McKinney


Article Contents:

bullet COLLAPSINGsilence Interview
bullet COLLAPSINGsilence Gallery I
bullet COLLAPSINGsilence Gallery II
bullet What Is Butoh?


As the lights dim a dissonant industrial soundtrack filters through the hall. The stage remains in shadow, uninhabited. The audience now shifts to make way for the dancers who have begun to plow slowly in a painful procession towards the stage, dressed in tattered white apparel and holding eerily glowing paper lanterns.

All movements are oppressively slow; it is a dance of crawling pain, shaking manoeuvres, and yet inevitably trance-like. The features of the dancers mirror the taut and nervous writhing of their bodies, slowed at times to a barely perceptable crawl. Despite the wildly archetypal images transmuted through their chalky and quaking limbs there is an impeccable precision and coherent storyline to their choreography. And an unforeseen grace that does not glide, but rather trembles, nearly imperceptable in a cold the audience is just beginning to feel.
Left to Right: Terrance Graven (standing), Abby Lewis, Indra Lowenstein, Natalia Anguiano, "Illness".
Photo by Marla Aufmuth

by Melusine de Nuit

Terrance:     Indra brings this fabric to rehearsal and she says she wants to make a kimono of it for a performance. And it is like the brightest green you've ever seen. It's the green, like when you're in kindergarten and they give you those big crayons. It's GREEN. Not a beautiful color green. It was hideous.

Indra:     That was a beautiful, cotton moire in a great, EMERALD green. I was totally willing to --

Terrance:     The FABRIC was great. But the COLOR was fluorescent.

Indra:     I got if from a street person for $25. 25 yards for $25 bucks. I thought it would appeal to your cheap sensibilities. THEN he wanted me to dye it black.

Terrance:     I didn't say black. I said darker.

Indra:     You said black.

Terrance:     I said darker.

Indra:     You DID say black. You dye EVERYTHING black. I know you said black.

Terrance:     I might have said black, but I think we compromised on a dark green.

Indra:     Because only DOGS see in black and white. And Terrance.

Terrance:     As you can tell, I tend to be the "no" person.

Indra:     Our "collaboration " is really more like a series of beautiful truces .

MELUSINE:      And THAT was an unedited example of creative parley in action. Hello, I'm here with Terrance Graven and Indra Lowenstein of the San Francisco Butoh Troupe, Collapsing Silence. I'm going to talk with them about their Troupe, their perspectives and feelings about Butoh dance in general, and what they are experiencing and hoping to convey through performing in Collapsing Silence.

Let's begin with how the Troupe was formed. Terrance, you were in a professional Butoh troupe before forming Collapsing Silence. Is this correct?

Terrance Graven & Natalia Anguiano TERRANCE:     Yes, I studied with a group called Harupin-Ha and I studied with them in Berkeley for about a year and a half, from 1990 to around 1992. After I broke from them, I met Indra sometime after that.

MELUSINE:      And Indra, you were doing performance art?

INDRA:     Yes, I was doing performance art all over San Francisco.

MELUSINE:     What kind of performance art?

INDRA:     It was a mixture of theater, and multi-media. I would cart in huge installation-type things, set up these things and do weird spoken word performances along with it.

MELUSINE:     You do fire eating and fire play as a part of performing in Collapsing Silence. Were you also doing that along with the performance art?

INDRA:     Yes. A lot of pyrotechnics. Lighting things on fire, smashing them.

MELUSINE:     And you and Terrance met around late 1992 and decided to put together a troupe? How did that work?

INDRA:     I had just dropped out of California College of Arts and Crafts because I was not very happy there. I was, however, very happy with my work. During my last semester there, I made a free-standing, 9' tall crucifix candelabra out of railroad ties. And a rack with a white canvas body bag and two spiked chastity belts from my jewelry metals class. Technically, they all could be worn. But for critique after critique, they were coolly received. I left feeling like the place was gutless. So then I was looking for something "to do." Something that was very serious but still fun. Luckily, I answered a casting call and I met Terrance there. We were fast friends and ran off and started doing this.

TERRANCE:      So we've been dancing together for five years now. We've gone through a few changes. Basically, Indra and I both act as Artistic Directors and we have about four people in the Troupe now. It's a fluctuating group. Sometimes we'll use other dancers.

INDRA:     Depending on the show.

MELUSINE:     Who are the constant other members of Collapsing Silence?

TERRANCE:     Natalia Anguiano and Abigail Lewis are our Principal Dancers. Mary Mitchell is our Stage Manager and Joseph acts as an Assistant. We also have two other dancers that we are considering at this time.

INDRA:      We've had as many as eight people in a performance. Or nine. TEN! Yes, ten.

Burning Man Benefit MELUSINE:      Collapsing Silence has been performing pretty steadily around San Francisco. You did a lot of stuff with Burning Man for about three years, going on the desert excursions and performing, in addition to benefits and special performances throughout the year in connection with them. Then you moved on to doing more, more specialized benefit-type performances and artistic installation sort of performances. Are you now kind of picking and choosing where you want to perform? What is it that you are looking for as far as further performance, future performing opportunities?

TERRANCE:      Well, we have a background in performing on bills with bands. Then I guess you could say we started doing more gallery shows. Also some art benefits. Well, not art benefits. What would you call it?

INDRA:     Artistic group shows.

TERRANCE:     Openings of artists, performance artists, other dance troupes.

INDRA:     Happenings. A crazy spectacle happening type of thing.

INDRA:     As far as our direction right now, we are more picking and choosing when and where to perform. Before we were kind of blindly just doing what came up and we were performing a lot. Now we're trying to be more serious, more directed and focused about where we're performing. The problem for me is that we really want to perform in theater spaces but they have so many rules. They won't let us set fires, use smudge sticks. There's fire laws and all that.

TERRANCE:     One of the things that we like, and I think is really important in Butoh, is that it pushes the boundaries, and our shows can be somewhat confrontational.

MELUSINE:     And that works better in a more intimate space?

TERRANCE:     It does. And with the theaters, as Indra mentioned, there are so many rules that, you know, fire and fireworks, and things like that, are not permitted and we really like that aspect. But it is somewhat dangerous, I suppose.

INDRA:     But the people that come to see us, our "fans" or whatever, they don't come to see a "safe" show. We're not THAT dangerous. We're running around barefoot so it can't be THAT dangerous.

MELUSINE:     I notice too, at least in the Collapsing Silence shows that I've seen, you tend to incorporate a lot of Occult or ritualistic aspects. A sort of sacred or ceremonial flair to some of your dances. I don't know personally whether that's part of what is considered "traditional Butoh." The little bit I have seen aside from Collapsing Silence seemed to have more of a psychological exploration or edge to the dancing.

TERRANCE:     Well, I believe that with every performance, it really is a ritual. There's obviously a beginning, a middle and an end. There are certainly aspects to a ritual that would coincide with that idea. I think that what we do though is more of a conscious direction. We use things such as grounding meditations, especially at the beginning of our performances.

MELUSINE:     You incorporate grounding exercises into the dance? Sort of like a grounding ritual that is performed?

TERRANCE:     Even sometimes before the performance.

INDRA:     Actually we make an altar backstage. We have the elements represented, a glass of water, incense, candles. We like to include all the elements in the dancing as well, including the fifth element. And that is basically the most important aspect of the performance because we're really trying to introduce the fifth element.

TERRANCE:     Some of the things we do that are very important in Butoh that is perhaps misunderstood is that there is an intense visualization that is happening with each dancer. Each dancer creates their own reality. I personally like to try and concentrate upon a detailed image.

MELUSINE:     I've also seen shows where you will use very dramatic costuming and bizarre props to accessorize the dance performance. But conversely you will also perform with a very stark set and minimal body garmenting. The first show I saw you do, a long time ago when there were only three members in the Troupe, you were wearing these ornate 17th Century costumes and peeled them off slowly in shreds. Is that more of an anti-tradition thing? In other Butoh I've seen which calls itself "traditional," the dancers are almost naked and the sets extremely minimalist or the stage is empty but for the dancers throughout.

TERRANCE:     Nowadays, performers of Butoh are taking it in a myriad of different directions. I don't think there's really any standard any more. It certainly had its beginnings in the 1950's with nakedness -- and cross-dressing was also very popular. At that time, it was very reactionary. So that really was what our costuming also reflected. I see some Butoh troupes now where the aesthetic is more, I don't know...

INDRA:     Minimal. Very minimal.

TERRANCE:     But it's very polished. It's a very polished look.

INDRA:     It's very clean.

Indra Lowenstein MELUSINE:     Indra, I have noticed that when you dance, you incorporate fire eating and fire play which I believe is unique, but you also incorporate a lot of Indian dance and belly dance movements. Terrance on the other hand seems to stay in a more of a -- I don't want to use the word but for lack of a better one -- more of a traditional Butoh movement sphere.

INDRA:     I really enjoy Odessi dance and belly dance, both of which I love performing. I like them because they are so different from Western dance. It's a very low center of gravity, and you stomp on the earth.

MELUSINE:     Which you also do in Butoh.

TERRANCE:     And also the element of water is really important.

INDRA:     Yes, the element of water is very important. When I'm moving my hips and arms, I feel like my arms are the air and my hips and my torso are the water. Or that the whole movement is a snake. Those dance forms fit very well into my visualizations. Western dance does not speak to me.

MELUSINE:     And this is not considered "traditional" Butoh?

INDRA:     There's a huge argument these days on what is considered "traditional Butoh." I kind of steer clear of that argument. It's very passionate for a lot of people.

TERRANCE:     Butoh is like religion in that it is very hard to define. It becomes something different for every single person. So, as Indra said, that's where the argument comes in. You'll have groups of people that will all agree, and say, "yes, THIS is what IT is all about." But of course there is argument about what IT really is. It's kind of hard to put any definition on it.

INDRA:     It has also been compared to sort of a "punk rock" art form where it purposely defies definition. It's about deconstruction of what people think the dance performance should be.

TERRANCE:     Deconstructionism.

INDRA:     But, there are other people that really want to define it.

MELUSINE:     Yes, as with everything there's always the "traditionalists" versus the "modernists," and then all the people in between.

Natalia Anguiano INDRA:     As far as our costumes and how that fits into the Butoh experience, we're European, so I like to draw on the European past. That's why I like using a lot of panniers and a lot of older, more historic European clothing. A lot of the early Japanese Butoh used historic kimonos. I feel more comfortable using historic clothing from European 18th century and the early 19th century. And can I just say right now that we are NEVER going to wear leotards. NEVER. I just think that would be hideous.

MELUSINE:     Well I've seen you wear clothes made of paper that you tear off, and you've worn garmenting made out of twigs and twine.

TERRANCE:     We use twigs, dead plants, we use a lot of paper.

INDRA:     We use snakeskin, shreds of paper.

MELUSINE:     Textures.

INDRA:     Stuff that you wouldn't normally consider a "costume." It looks like a pile of rags but it is put on and it's a costume. But I'd rather be stark raving naked than wear a leotard. I would feel more comfortable dancing Butoh that way.

MELUSINE:     Okay, you mentioned something before the tape was running about The First Position? Can you tell me about that? What is it? Please describe it.

TERRANCE:     In Butoh, the First Position is a dance stance that is used to bring the body into a neutral position. Think of the terms "first position, second position, etc.," in ballet. The First Position is achieved by visualizing a series of images and slowly positioning the body in accordance with the visualizations.

The First Position visualization goes something like this: Butoh is very ground oriented, very earth oriented, so the first thing a dancer is to concentrate upon is the earth. With the feet, they can be stuck in mud. This helps with the grounding. Then, moving up the body to the chest, there is a unique flower on the chest. Keeping the head, shoulders and chest aligned vertically, the dancer inhales the flower's fragrance. On the back is a trickling waterfall which also helps keep everything in a line.

The shoulders are heavy mountains which again keep the shoulders down and relaxed, and on top of the mountains is snow. Snow caps. These are melting and trickling down the arms, becoming rivers, then streams down to the hands where the water then drips back down to the ground off the fingers. Then wind goes by through empty ribs. Through the arms.

The vision is like one big eyeball. It's concentrated to the horizon. Then the peripheral vision is opened up all the way around to the back so that you become aware of your environment all the way around you. The last thing is that there's a string that pulls you up and a string that pulls you down. That's the visualization that I've been taught -- those descriptions. But the visualization I like to use is that from the crown chakra to the root chakra there's an energy string. Where they meet in the middle is like a tug of war.

MELUSINE:     Collapsing Silence currently has a video in the works, correct? You've shot some stuff and you're working on getting together a professional video for presentation and sale.

TERRANCE:     That is correct. We do have a video, and we are in the process of editing it and finishing it. We will be using that for promotional purposes and for people who are interested in seeing what we do since it is difficult to describe.

MELUSINE:     You have some upcoming shows?

TERRANCE:     Yes we do.

INDRA:     January 18, 1998. It's something called the Slick Fetish Ball in San Francisco. We'll be going on to perform around 11:00 p.m.

MELUSINE:     Terrance, you are teaching Butoh classes at this time as well?

TERRANCE:     Yes, I teach classes every Saturday at The Cell Space.

MELUSINE:     In these classes you basically teach them what you perform? You teach the techniques, visualizations and meditative exercises?

TERRANCE:     Yes.

MELUSINE:     Aside from Collapsing Silence, I understand you are pursuing a career in the film industry?

TERRANCE:     Yes. I have been working in the film industry in various capacities for a few years now, mostly as an artistic director. Currently, I am shooting a film of my own called "Swift Rest."

MELUSINE:     Indra, in addition to Collapsing Silence you do performance art on your own, film work, and fetish fashion show modeling in San Francisco and Los Angeles? Also solo fire eating and fire play performances?

INDRA:     Yes.

MELUSINE:     Obviously both of you have very active and diverse creative pursuits outside of Collapsing Silence within which you incorporate your Butoh experience and techniques.

INDRA:     Yes. As much as possible.

MELUSINE:     All right. Do either of you have anything you'd like to add?

TERRANCE:     Actually, I'd like to reiterate about the deconstructionist aspect of Butoh -- that Butoh is taking the body, the mind and the spirit beyond its perceived limits. So as a dancer, what often happens is you say, "Well, I'm able to stretch this far." But what sometimes we don't realize is that we can actually go farther. You create your reality by the definitions that you put on it. Butoh is about getting rid of the boundaries or the definitions of your reality. In Butoh, the dancer confronts fears and pushes their physical limits, as well as perhaps their psychological, emotional and spiritual limits. I think this is really important.

INDRA:     For the longest time our motto has been, "If it doesn't hurt, you're not doing it right."

Indra Lowenstein

COLLAPSINGsilence is:

Artistic Director: TERRANCE GRAVEN: (415) 661-8442
Artistic Director: INDRA LOWENSTEIN: (415) 252-8778

COLLAPSINGsilence invites your feedback & queries, please write to: indra@sirius.com

Gallery ==>>
What Is Butoh? ==>>

Photo Credits:
Photo used in Title: Terrance Graven, "Opium Lady", Photo by Beverly Chambers
Terrance Graven (standing), Abby Lewis, Indra Lowenstein, Natalia Anguiano, "Illness": Photo by Marla Aufmuth
Terrance Graven & Natalia Anguiano, "Sheet of Ice": Photo by Marla Aufmuth
Performance at the Burning Man Benefit, Somar Gallery San Francisco: Photo by Brian Armstong
Indra Lowenstein w/ Fire: Photo by Andrea Ferrante
Natalia Anguiano: Photo by Kristin Burkart
Indra Lowenstein: "Gargoyle": Photo by John Carey

All Photos shot during Live Performances