Dairakudakan’s Pseudo Human Super Human. Photo by Hiroyuki Kawashima

Vancouver Playhouse – March 8, 2019.

Presented by the Vancouver International Dance Festival.

Dairakudakan was established in 1972 by choreographer and director Akaji Maro, who studied under butoh pioneer Tatsumi Hijikata. In Pseudo human/Super human, Maro examines the potential outcomes of mankind’s continued pursuit for automation.

Through 17 vignettes, the 20 or so performers, including Maro himself, portray distinct characters in a futuristic, wildly imaginative world, expressed through the dance form of butoh. It begins with a dozen or so seated, doll-like beings in uniform beige, mouths gaping and eyes in wonder, as if awakening to discover their own physical bodies. In the following scenes, mannequins step in and out of movable glass boxes to either manipulate other characters or depict their subservience to a master with mechanical arms. Maro’s fantastical white-wigged character curiously peers out from a wooden bucket carried on stage by one of several mannequin characters; teasing his appearance later in the performance.

Most vignettes depict a community of characters, and as the performance progresses, their adherence to their community is challenged by encounters with the beings of the other groups. Creators lose control; creations adopt their own consciousness. Pseudo also delivers its version of such creator-creation relationship including a lumbering Frankenstein-type monster chained to his master, and served by a skittering, diminutive lizard-like creature. One singular character not part of any particular collective seems to be inspired by traditional Japanese theatre, and at several points throughout the performance, lets out a low, bone-rattling howl.

The stage is set in the centre with a tall, tree-like structure of coloured wire, around which the scenes encircle. The lighting, designed by Noriyuki Mori (balance,inc.DESIGN), is sharp and stark;  costumes by Kyoko Domoto, which include glittering skullcaps and metallic detailing, amplify the effects of the lighting. Electronic soundscape by Keisuke Doi and Jeff Mills evolves from subtle to grating and intensified the moods within the performance.

While there is a constant suggestion of robotic consistency, outcomes are all but predictable. Like the mannequin who seemed to contemplate his morals when he relinquished the captured mechanical arm to its owner, it seems the force of collective automation is never quite as strong as individual agency. The performance ends with Maro’s character reappearing in a gallant procession with the master of the Frankenstein monster and a few of the principal characters, who seemed to both represent the outcome of, and be conscious witnesses to our pursuit for superhuman efficiency. It seems we will always be tempered by idiosyncrasies of the individual, and the outcomes of that is probably better than imagined.