Some art is for all audiences, and some art occupies a very specific niche. “La Sangre,” a butoh piece performed by Will Atkins, definitely falls in the latter category. Butoh, a highly stylized Japanese dance theatre, is an obscure art form characterized by extreme subject matter and slow, precise motion. For the uninitiated, a performance such as “La Sangre” could be unsettling or confusing. After all, it’s hard to prepare for the visceral experience of watching someone dance with large needles through their flesh. However, once you’re in the proper mindset, there is something unexpectedly, hauntingly moving about “La Sangre.” According to the program, “La Sangre” is “a butoh piece exploring violence and prejudice against the queer community, using body piercing to challenge the stigma of HIV,” and it certainly lives up to that ambition. The needles, when combined with the slow, deliberate violence in the choreography, call to mind the suffering and fear that can accompany an HIV diagnosis. There are moments of turmoil and liberation, and the theme of exposure is sewn throughout the performance. From the bare‑chested costuming to the unmistakable reality of the performer’s blood, “La Sangre” leaves nothing hidden away. The discipline and precision of butoh stand in stark contrast to the primal, painful imagery evoked by the performance. Somewhere in “La Sangre” seems to be the soul of a horror story, using shocking or unnerving material to ask questions and search for answers. Butoh is a strikingly unique art form, and “La Sangre” is appropriately striking. It is singularly unlike what the average audience member might expect on tthe stage, and is certainly not for everyone. An adventurous audience is necessary for such adventurous art, and the squeamish may find it too extreme. However, for those who know the lengths to which butoh can go, and the heights it can reach, “La Sangre” delivers exactly what it intends to.
“La Sangre” Performed by Will Atkins November 9 at 7:30 PM Photo by Michael Blase 2019 United Solo Theatre Festival Theatre Row 410 West 42nd Street New York City
CHANCE MORGAN is a writer and director currently based in New Jersey. He has worked for Dorset Theatre Festival, Northern Stage, and Bay Street Theatre. He is a graduate of Colorado Mesa University’s theatre program, and spends his time developing his screenplays and musicals.