I was in San Francisco, late in the 1990s. I found myself alongside a performance of Butoh, the post-nuclear, slow-moving dance artform of Japan. The genre itself is an indictment, a horror, and yet there is a passivity to it that is spellbinding. I was earning a living, and for my taste, a faster pace would have been better. But you take what you can get.
Only one of the acts was a solo work. She was also not Japanese, though some people told me she had mastered the painful expression, the tranquility that suggests death, the anguish of a nation reduced to humility in three days, and the exploration of taboo. I congratulated her on her standing ovation. Take me for a drink? Not what I expected, but I agreed. Not tonight, but two nights later.
Without her whiteface, her Greco-American features were more comfortable. We talked about art, about suffering, about cross-cultural bullshit. I could’ve kept it up for hours. With each new topic, she’d shake her head at my amateurish attempts and smile. At last she extended a hand and caressed the back of my head. She ordered whiskey. I stayed with vodka. Her hand slipped to my neck for emphasis. I took pride in a point of disagreement. She laughed out loud for the first time.
As she straddled me and settled into a steady rhythm, I discovered her breasts were not entirely her own, something I had not expected. This was a first, and as I contemplated it, she slapped me, not lightly. “Pay attention,” she breathed, and I did. And she turned, and I pursued, and she made me make her point. Beyond that, there’s not much I remember after fifteen years.
There was no show the next day, at least, not in San Francisco. Regardless.