Four Stages, a collaborative performance created by artist and musician Wolf William Say and artist and dancer Dola Baroni, opened up the first week in October and presented a fresh and exhilarating performance with a multi-day run of the show. Four Stages is written under the influence of Grotowski and in the spirit of ceremony. In the performance, Baroni danced four acts as a god of human error to a score composed by Say. The evenings did not disappoint and unfolded each night to a packed house at MATCH theater in Midtown. The opening night went off without a hitch and hit the ground with a force of lightning, moving the audience with a powerful piece inspired by the tradition of Butoh and elements of contemporary minimalism. The performance ran for three nights, and a workshop over the weekend walked participants, not only through some of the key components of Butoh, but also through spacial understanding and movement. The Sunday workshop had a workable size and gave the attendees a deeper insight to the performance, but also a glimpse into Dola herself. Although no dance background was required, the workshop was an all-encompassing experience. While the workshop was not necessary to take in order to see the performance, it certainly gave a better understanding and allowed the viewer a closer look at the traditions and form related to the show.

Four Stages opened with intensity and raw power as a single light blasted on the back curtain and the score cored itself into the viewer, creating an immediate uneasiness as Dola presented herself in an engulfing thick, red, and heavy cotton dress, almost concealing her body. It was a large and stiff garment. The four acts had elements of simplicity, yet they were solid and profound. Dola’s presence was cutting and impassioned. The acts seemed to escalate slowly, bringing more inner energy and agony with each movement, all the while maintaining a level of tranquility, often times moving the audience to tears. Wolf’s direction and score was impressive and perfectly displayed the working relationship he has had for years with Baroni. Say and Baroni will be back to working again with each other in two weeks and are planning an ongoing project for Houston. Free Press Houston was able to catch up with the collaborative team to talk about their mutual past history and the presentation of Four Stages.

Free Press Houston: Dola and Wolf, it is truly is a pleasure to have been part of your workshop and to see your performance. I’m glad we are able to sit down with the two of you to get a little more insight to the background of your performance Four Stages and hear more of what is coming up on the horizon. Dola, you are one of the key components to this production, tell me a little bit about your background?

Dola Baroni: Well, I had my ballet and my jazz and my tap training, but I didn’t do modern and contemporary. I did Flamenco and in Indian style — Bollywood style — and then I stopped dancing completely. Then I was in in the photo land for a while. I left school to move to Japan to study Butoh in 2006, and stayed for three months and then I came back home to LA. I went back to Japan a second time January 2007 and stayed there again for another three months. I first studied with Yoshito Ohno at the Kazuo Ohno studio in Yokohama, where I stayed there and studied with him for that first three months. Then at the end of that, I met Yukio Waguri, who is the principal male dancer for Tatsumi Hijikata, who is another founder of Butoh. Right at the very end of my trip, I started training with him, and that’s why I went back the second time so I could train with him again. When I was there in 2007, I was still at the Kazuo Ohno but bringing in more Hijikata-style practice by way of his main dancer, Yukio Waguri. Later he started coming to LA and we could work in different cities together. And if he would be in certain place I would go there. That same year, in 2007, when I got home, they had a New York Butoh Festival in Brooklyn. The festival asked me to come in and shoot it and be a part of all of the performances and the workshops.

FPH: How did this overall conversation between you and Wolf spark, and when did you two decide on collaborating?

Wolf William Say: Specifics of this project are that in December 2015, I sent Dola the name of each of the acts and the costume progression, and then we started taking it a little bit from there. We had a couple of the email exchanges about notes which was really imagery associated with each of the acts, imagery, moods, and movements in the sense of dance movements. I had asked Dola to dance one part of it and wrote some music that later was cut for animal dying of thirst (one of the acts in Four Stages), and Dola rented a beautiful Studio space in LA and danced that piece.

FPH: So Wolf, you sent the seed if you will of this project in 2015. What was the drive to start this new conversation? Did you work on that first and then Dola became part of that? Were you sort of continually having a collective conversation?

Say: I wouldn’t say that we had a collective conversation continuously, but I would say that we show each other what we are doing pretty regularly. Even if it’s not formal finished pieces, we send each other kind of image letters, or video letters to keep in dialogue, an image dialogue, and also meaningful dialogue. So that’s partly friendship or relationship, but also always to me felt like a solid working relationship because we first knew each other through photography.

Baroni: You know we met in 2010, but we have known each other on the internet since 2007 — but that was all very photo related. We didn’t really start talking about dance or connecting with dance until later around 2011 to 2012. Wolf started getting more interested in dance and seeing it in this way that I saw it and appreciating Butoh, but also the other dance, other movements, and certain approaches to work that involved Butoh. The piece, I don’t want to say that it was made for this, but it was. It was made for this and nobody else can do it except us. The whole piece is about dance, it’s Butoh but not. It’s just something we agree on.

Say: …and image and audience and mythology. There was a bunch of things we overlap on that we can do with this project. It’s a kind of an open approach from both sides. Now I can think about movement. In some ways, I do understand my practice enough if I want to see a really simplistic or proportional dynamic. You know everything has a range of motion. So dance becomes the obvious, but the more control and understanding you have dictates how many different ranges of motion can be in place at once. The more you can kind of communicate with a space or room full of people with a certain one person. So there’s nobody else. I can be really open with the music because I know she can do literally anything, and she can be very open with the movement because she knows I trust her completely. We didn’t really do a full dress rehearsal even — I just knew. We talked about what the movement would be, we talked about how the show it play out, and then set it in motion when it was ready to go and it worked. It certainly exceeded my expectations

FPH: Was there an element of improvisation?

Baroni: No

Say: No. Just unknown parts from the both of us.

Baroni: For Wolf, he knows what I’m going to do. He may not know if I’m going to go like this or like this, right? Or maybe like this or like this. (Dola becomes very movement-oriented at the table, moving her body and arms as she explains.)

Say: It’s all very planned… It’s not improvisation. That’s important.

FPH: Yes of course. I mean, improvisation in the sense that you know it wouldn’t be different from Friday to Sunday night performances, but in the sense that there was a small amount of flexibility realm.

Baroni: Well that is merely based off the small geographical issue — in the sense that if I was here and we could be around each other all the time we would have been able to do more of that.

Say: I don’t know though, I like the reach.

Baroni: Of course, but it was just how it needed to be. You know, I wasn’t ever going to go in there and do it all from start to finish like that, but before the show I wasn’t going to.

Say: We had only Thursday to run through. We had really ambitious ideas about what it would look like, and so making you look like that took all the time we had with the sound and light guys. The lighting guy we needed, we actually could have used a little more time.

Baroni: But that came out so well as we talked about the lights work could be they were props they were duets. So it wasn’t just about lighting the show, it was about the part of the dance you experience. Being in a small, two-square-foot space with that light and moving just that small space now so we knew what the light had to be like

FPH: Tell me a little bit about the four different acts? How did those come about and what were their origins in relation to your background in Butoh?

Say: They don’t come from Butoh, and they certainly do have things in common with Butoh exercises and performances, but “Carrying a Sacrificial Animal” is Grotowski. He basically did really, really well in New York doing Off Broadway and then got some pretty serious work on Broadway. But he was doing pretty traditional theater directing, and he decided that there was just a strange artifice that was really keeping the audience from caring — and especially if they really love the show. So he has this kind of moment where he decides the success doesn’t really mean anything if you can’t solve this problem. Then he goes back to Poland, basically a friend-of-New-York-theater-person got some land in Poland, and he starts these movement workshops all about getting people back into their bodies and largely about dealing with their own terrible bodies. It’s a rather than having dancers and actors and performers who are trying to keep the audience from seeing too much or trying to control what the audience is seeing, it’s you know you can make total peace with yourself. So you’re fully on stage so it does some interesting things

Baroni: But that is Butoh.

Say: Of course, but so I just think it’s interesting like that. That came from Grotowski. We didn’t even really talk about it, but it was obviously, it intersected completely with the Butoh practice. The titles are so Butoh-ed out for lack of a better way of saying. The body is the common language, so it’s not surprising that the people in the post-war period — working really separately but somewhere on the same kind of basic truth — that everybody slipped into a strange kind of spectatorship, and the performer is doubly responsible now.

FPH: The performance seems to fall into this Butoh tradition. It has its beauty and a sense of movement, but I sensed that there’s a darkness to the piece as a whole. Can you speak about that and your movements towards that? Were you sticking to tradition of Butoh, or how did you weave your vision of those acts and the final production?

Baroni: I know you see it darker than I see it. To me it’s not about being dark or being grotesque or that it’s more just about showing every single aspect of living the whole experience. It’s important for you to see me when I don’t know you’re seeing me, but I do but I don’t — you know, you have your own thing. You can watch me do anything. So that’s what it is in the sense that I’m not trying to be dark or be scary you know? I’m not trying to not be beautiful now. I’m just trying to be honest and go far now and all the ways that we can go together. When I’m alone — just me — I jam out to Otis Redding, but it’s the same level of exploration of all the feelings. If it gets dark, it’s dark, but it’s not dark. It’s just we aren’t used to seeing that. I was really surprised that there were ballet people here that were really interested in this because ballet and the contemporary modern dance world, they’re running out of things. They understand that nobody wants to see a ton of pirouettes and beautiful falls on the floor anymore. It’s just not interesting. It’s tired. So, I don’t think of my dance as Butoh — I think of my approach as Butoh.

FPH: With the conclusion of this visit and your three night run, what are you two thinking of for the future?

Baroni: We have a lot of footage to look at, edit, deal with, and share. We want to do this again. We want to do another run of the show. Of course, more projects are coming. They won’t all be dance and movement. We are talking about me coming back in few weeks to work over a few things and maybe something more that will be presented?

There will be a film screening of Kazuo Ohno performances and selected interviews on Thursday, October 26 at Brasil (2604 Dunlavy) in celebration of Ohno’s birthday.