Last year, Josefin Runsteen collaborated with Charles Spearin on Thank God the Plague Is Over. This year, she unveils a score composed for the choreography of Butoh dancer Caroline Lundblad. On these two works alone, she demonstrates her diversity, but there is also great diversity within the five movements of HANA. The title refers to the Japanese word for “flower,” and the album celebrates nature, the elements, and earth’s capacity for renewal.
There’s a strong religious tone to this release, as portrayed in the cover image (Edwin Landseer, 1851) which references magical and spiritual stories. The scene titles ~ void, water, fire, earth, air ~ are roughly analogous to creation tales. The music is thoughtful, the choreography bordering on the divine. The multi-genre treatment suggests different paths to growth, each converging on a higher plane.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void. In the opening scene, one hears the wind blowing over the vast unknown; the rush broken by a chime and birds. Nature begins to abound, growing astride the abstract music of creation, each formless, seeking order. The harp seems fitting, the notes growing in volume and confidence. Now voice; now brass; now form fading into glissando.
Soft rain begin to fall, cleansing the air of piano notes. A sudden splash prompts “Water” back to darkness, with electronic textures and the shuffles of protoplasm. Deep bass beckons the dancers. A vocalist sings over drips and drums, retreats to breath. The background moves and morphs; there is no solid ground. The music stops; the thunder rolls.
“Fire” lights its way with guitar and defined strings. Thick guitar drones descend like the smoke from not-too distant fires. A wordless wail arises from the maelstrom like supplication. In Scene IV (“Earth”) we finally get to see some of the choreography in action, the earth itself tossed like a ball, molded, shaped, smoothened over a heartbeat pulse. The ball is treated poorly, mangled and dropped, lies flattened. The camera sinks to reveal the real earth below. Tendrils descend like spider webs. The music is tribalistic at first, then crashes into syllables. Sa-ku-ra. More tendrils extend from the clay, these reaching upward. A girl watches scenes from a passenger train. We’re not sure about the bunny (although there are bunnies on the cover), but by the end, the clay ball has taken on a life of its own, needing no hands to float, accompanied by choir.
The video for the finale, “Air,” includes fragments of choreography from the entire performance, while the music contains an extract of Krishnamurti’s poetry. The strings are serene, the elements integrated. There’s room for all to play here ~ dance beats return along with a fragment of song. In the sixth minute, we can feel the Butoh dancer’s joy. A visual segment of whirling (like a dervish) is followed by a musical segment of choir, closing in a cascade of strings. The final sound: an intake of breath, the culmination of life. We have been restored by nature, as nature. The dancers rest. The violinist lays down her bow. (Richard Allen)