This month Parvati Magazine spoke with Robyn Rubenstein, an artist and butoh dancer based in Brooklyn.
Parvati Magazine: What is the significance of butoh as an art form?
Robyn Rubenstein: Butoh was created as a response to the devastation Japan experienced in WWII – ghostly, haunting costumes and movement that show humanity trying to stagger through violence. It has evolved into a kind of meditative practice that explores themes of impermanence, animism, balance and the embracing of light and dark as necessary forces. So we use this reimagining of older forms of performance to effect political activism, explore the beautiful and the ugly.
PMAG: Have you experienced healing through the practice, performance or teaching of butoh?
RR: I was participating in a 10-day intensive master workshop led by Atsushi Takeouchi in Japan many years ago. Each dancer was giving a solo performance on the last day. Takeouchi gave feedback after each person’s work, and the group also discussed their work. The person right before me had just finished, and he said to her in his non-native English, “you can do anything, never afraid.” This went directly into me, cracking something open. It may have been said to someone else, but I needed to hear that, had needed to hear that earlier in my life more often. It had a powerful effect on the solo I performed.
PMAG: What role do you see art playing – whether dance or painting or other – in one’s healing journey?
RR: Creating visual art, performance, and music accesses the right brain more directly. Tapping into the right brain affords the power to see things from a different perspective, release or resolve things in one’s path.
PMAG: For someone interested in learning butoh as part of a wellness or fitness journey, where would you suggest they start?
RR: There are many great Butoh performances captured on YouTUbe, to give you an idea of what the artform entails. Focus your mind on your goal or challenge. I recommend finding a safe outdoor or natural environment. Give yourself a long period to explore your body and personal movement, not thinking at all or wondering what you look like. Maybe start with 10 minutes (it will be hard, you will come in and out of it but keep going.) Rest. Try again or come back another day. Keep a journal of how you feel after each time, any discoveries. For inspiration, you may want to read some blogs online, watch some youtube videos or attend a class. Here are some links to my favorite teachers, Atsushi Takenouchi and Imre Thormann.
Robyn Rubenstein studied marine biology, fine art, and modern dance at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She worked on Capitol Hill as a Congressional Aide for Senator Ron Wyden while pursuing modern, African and Butoh dance in her spare time before moving to NY to develop a career in dance and visual art. When producing art, she feels a sense of investigation similar to the hours spent alone in a lab collecting and analyzing data on kelp reproduction cycles. She speaks Japanese and French, and resides in East Williamsburg.