Moving Real Strange for Free

Butoh performances by Spank Dance Company

Moving Real Strange for Free

On the third Thursday of each month, the lobby of the Salvage Vanguard Theater reveals a tableau of living art known as butoh. As different from the more familiar Western forms of modern dance as an arsenic-based life-form is from our own human biology, butoh's ancient Japanese paradigm of movement is re-engineered here by a shifting combination of dancers Ellen Bartel, Mari Akita, Caroline Sutton Clark, and musician Adam Sultan. This particular Spank Dance Company initiative has been unfolding its wonders for four years, for free, in various venues around town.

"It started when Mari and I did a modeling session at David Ohlerking's Austin Figurative Gallery," says Spank Dance Company's Ellen Bartel. "And instead of just nude figures, we decided to do butoh – with costumes and paint and everything. We didn't do still poses; we moved throughout the entire session. And when we got done, I told David that that was one of my favorite things in the world to do and I would do it every day if I could. And he said, 'Well, why don't you?' And I said, 'Well, maybe not every day,' and from that point on, we did it once a month with David. Mari and I did it briefly by ourselves, and then we invited Caroline, because she's performed butoh professionally."

Moving Real Strange for Free

Austin Chronicle: And, out of all the musicians in Austin to work with, why Adam Sultan?

Ellen Bartel: 'Cause he's my friend!

Adam Sultan: Nothing to do with my talent.

Moving Real Strange for Free

Bartel: Adam's really good at improvising in an organic way that's similar to how we perform. He's sensitive to movement in the space around him, as opposed to somebody who can improvise but stays mostly in their own head. Adam's capable of opening his field of vision.

Sultan: I took it as a challenge, something beyond my usual comfort zone. Butoh has a sense of trying to remove the conventions of modern dance and yet still trying to express something. It's the most satisfying improv music I've ever done, because it's so spacious and inviting.

AC: So you got Adam on board, and it was off to SVT for the four of you?

Moving Real Strange for Free

Caroline Sutton Clark: Before SVT, David lost his studio and there was a performance in a stable.

Bartel: We went from the Figurative Gallery to where David lived in the horse stable to when he was in the office space Downtown. We did, like, four or five performances there, which was weird, because it was an actual office space – a long hallway and small reception area, with other businesses around us. And then we went to SVT in, I think, '08.

AC: And are these performances what people would recognize as traditional butoh?

Sutton Clark: It's the intersection of where we're all coming from, and I'd definitely put it under the butoh umbrella. Butoh has a vast array of styles; it's a rending-open of creative energy, so you can put a lot of different things under that banner. It's different from modern dance in its look, in the form it takes. Even improvisational modern dance has a real emphasis on form in terms of aesthetic structures; the use of space and time tends to be very Westernized. Butoh has a real different sense of time – in the sense of tempo but also in compositional structures of time and in the form that takes. Butoh is more organically motivated than architecturally motivated. There's a real connection to chaos theory and quantum mechanics that are more in the Eastern realm of thought.

The next butoh performance by Spank Dance Company will be Thursday, Dec. 16, 7-7:30pm, at Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd. For more information, call 474-7886 or visit

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Spank Dance Company
Spanking the Figurative
Spanking the Figurative
A new Austin gallery captures dancers with paint

Wayne Alan Brenner, Aug. 10, 2007

More butoh
The Chaos Dance
Still Now
Shrewd Productions' Still Now provides a fresh perspective on cancer through butoh

Robert Faires, Sept. 26, 2014

More by Wayne Alan Brenner
Soup to Nuts for the Holidays
Soup to Nuts for the Holidays
Gift your besties some soupy and/or nutty goodness this year

Dec. 8, 2023

NADC Burger Goes Brick-and-Mortar, Birdie’s Reprises Bistro Remy, Luminaire Gets Spanish with Wines, the Oyster Is (Part of) épicerie’s World, and More
NADC Burger Goes Brick-and-Mortar, Birdie’s Reprises Bistro Remy, Luminaire Gets Spanish with Wines, the Oyster Is (Part of) épicerie’s World, and More
All the news that’s fit to get your taste buds quivering

Dec. 6, 2023


Spank Dance Company, butoh, Ellen Bartel, Mari Akita, Caroline Sutton Clark, Adam Sultan, David Ohlerking, Austin Figurative Gallery

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle