Review: DasSHOKU SHAKE! A Japanese Australian Butoh cabaret extravaganza


Yumi Umiumare’s latest collaboration, DasSHOKU SHAKE! has renowned Theatre Gumbo, a selection of Osaka Butoh performers and local artists bring a sublime mix of social satire and edgy physicality to the Melbourne Fringe Festival. It is the fourth work in the acclaimed DasSHOKU (‘to bleach’) series, which the artists have nurtured via long distance (with the help of inter-webs video hook-up).  I must admit I felt slightly hesitant attending the performance. I was apprehensive that the work, which comes as a response to the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, could in some way exploit the anguish from the events and derive creative output for a show. Thankfully this distress was quickly dissolved by the challenging, outrageous pieces that provoked deeper questioning rather than absolving catharsis.

There are an impressive 17 acts in the entire extravaganza; all inspired by the meaning of ‘shake’ in the psychosomatic and physical sense.  The acts are brought together with this abstraction of ‘shake’, wrestling with cultural tropes, traditions and the contrary nature of modern life. And as an audience member, I was really pushed, conceptually and sensory-wise. There were times the audience were instructed to breathe, and damn well I needed it!

Photo by Masami Kikuchi

The explosion of exaggerated movement and costuming were outstanding. But what really struck me was the finesse in the execution of the acts such as “Businessman Shake” which played to the stereotype of the ‘Japanese Businessman’ in order to expose attitudes both in Australia and Japan towards the world of business and capital. The characterisation of the Businessman was relentlessly ridiculous, but also in my view cleverly aimed at generating unease and delight in the dissonance of the performance.

Then there is the unforgettable young mother and baby act which pokes fun at the way our consumer driven, individualist society influences parent-child relationships. In a hot, cutesy-pink outfit, the young mother parades her child with great pomp down the stage cat-walk style. The satirical catch-cry of modern parenting is delivered by the young mother:  ‘Remember mama said only one poo a week!’ Glen20 (a scent deodoriser) is also used unsparingly and to disturbing effect.

The pure highlight for me was the unrestrained and boundless hilarity demonstrated in “Sexy Shake” which was then followed by unravelling fragility achieved in the act, “Punk Explosion”.  I have never seen so much masturbating and augmented breast action on stage as what I saw in the “Sexy Shake” act- at one point there were potentially 8 breasts bouncing around on the one performer (thanks to truly inspired costuming).

This show won’t be to everyone’s liking, especially if you favour works that are easily read, comforting and generally light entertainment. Though, realistically one could hardly expect that the 2011 earthquake’s devastation and ongoing legacy to be neatly wrapped up and presented in a bit over 1 hour. I sincerely hope that DasSHOKU SHAKE! continues to play beyond the Fringe Festival because its message is potent with the urgency for us all to create space for quiet reflection within our chaotic existence.

Directed by Yumi Umiumare  and Kayo Tamura in collaboration with other artists.

DasSHOKU SHAKE! can be seen at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne from 27 September – 7 October, 2012.

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