House of Tudor
Get your multi-culturalism on with "3 Drops of Blood"
June 23, 2004
With a taste for poetic melancholy, an eye for perverse artistry, and an ear for unusual beauty, Ali Tabatabai conceived of his performance series "3 Drops Of Blood." The first installment, which was held in February, included butoh, opera, stilt-dancing, and neo-Weimar cabaret. It sounded good on paper, but in person, it verged on mystical. Seated on the floor of the old Galia, we watched as Koichi Tamano, founder of Harupin-Ha Butoh Dance Theater and acclaimed apprentice of renowned butoh teacher Tatsumi Hijikata, made his entrance inside a giant balloon. Looking as ferocious as a demon, with unruly black hair, feral eyes, and a body of sinew wrapped in red silk, he rolled and clawed through the gape-mouthed crowd while his wife/ partner, Hiroko, also a student of Hijikata and the reason Country Station Sushi in the Mission remains the nexus of butoh's avant-garde, followed in white. As Koichi contorted his face into silent screams and muted growls, Hiroko smiled like a perverse mummy-clown, ringing tiny bells in her clothes by the precise, shuddering arrangement of her limbs. Slowly, Koichi emerged from his confinement, and a strange courtship dance began, but already the show had surpassed expectation.
The second installment of "3 Drops of Blood," which is named for a short story by renowned Iranian existential writer Sadegh Hedayat, finds the Tamanos collaborating with Tabatabai's own ensemble, Nanos Operetta, as well as with bass clarinet quartet Edmund Welles, comprised of Cornelius Boots, Beth Custer, Ben Goldberg, and Jacob Lindsey. Left to their own nimble talents, the members of Edmund Welles concoct "Muzak for conspiracy theorists" by reraveling the works of Erik Satie, the Residents, Blind Willie Johnson, Sepultura, and others, but this weekend they will contribute to the three movements of Our Breath Is as Thin as a Humming Bird's Spine, a piece choreographed by the Tamanos, but written and arranged by the exceptionally literate Nanos Operetta.
In Greek, nanos translates as "midget," and the live sound collages created by the Nanos Operetta are no less than diminutive, slightly misshapen operas that play with themes of love, disease, and desolation. The five members employ accordion, guitar, banjo, pump organ, violin, saw, vibraphone, and sundry detritus to weave strains of flamenco, tango, bebop, cabaret, cartoon, and chamber music into livid soundtracks over which Tabatabai applies his poetic narratives.
"I find myself as heavy as a limb on a leper/ In Room 406/ Hunched over the mast each night/ Looking out onto this Tenderloin through a single eye/ Of the red room/ I see the looted temples/ The twisted columns/ The outstretched arms of the shimmering/ Rapidly dissipating remains of aborted dreams/ Dumped by their keepers like raw sewage along the byways of Market Street," intones Tabatabai halfway through the epic "Red Room." As rich and cinematic as the music of Nanos can be, one wishes Tabatabai's voice were imbued with more depth. But what he lacks in inherent crags, he makes up for in familiarity and phrasing. There is no doubt that these visions are his, and they are uniquely suited to the darkness of the music and butoh.
In addition, this month Kunst-Stoff, one of the Bay Area's most experimental performance companies, presents a new work at "3 Drops of Blood" inspired by the synergy of visual artists, musicians, composers, filmmakers, and writers. On Saturday, Lhagva Ulziisaikhan, a former member of the Mongolian National Tuman Ekh Ensemble and delegate to the Throat Singers Symposium in Ulaanbaatar, will perform on the horse-headed fiddle and ox-horn trumpet, accompanied by fellow master Mongolian musician Chunsraikhachin Otgonbaatar performing on the moon-shaped lute. "3 Drops of Blood" will be held on Friday and Saturday, June 25-26, at Dance Mission Theater; call 273-4633 or visit www.dancemission.com.