Monday, 1 September 2014

The Glasgow School MCM: the artists reply with Paul Michael Henry

If you had to describe Glaswegian performance in three sentences, or phrases, or even words... what would these be?

"Various. In Glasgow." (I will acknowledge a resistance to that question).

While I am reluctant to suggest that any one artist's answers can represent a large swathe of the artistic community (that is why I am bothering so many people with my survey), I think that Paul Michael Henry is articulating a common response to my questions. When I set out my carefully worded questionnaire, I did expect plenty of replies that called me out on the assumptions I am making. 

Paul Michael Henry is a musician, a thinker, a Butoh practitioner and a festival curator. Most recently, he arranged the Moving Bodies festival in the CCA, a wonderful compilation of Butoh artists from around the world. Apart from being one of the few working artists in Scotland, let alone Glasgow, who are seriously engaging with the Japanese form, Paul Michael Henry is a champion of the art. 

Moving Bodies is a clarion call for Butoh, a showcase of its excellence and a reminder that performance exists in forms beyond most definitions of theatre.

When asked about artists with whom he feels an affinity, his choices are telling. They are not necessarily working in the same area ('My perception of shared characteristics with them includes a sense of art as more than entertainment,' he explains. 'An integrity of excavation into human potentials, rawness and a search for what Hijikata (founder of Butoh dance) called the body that has not been robbed.'). 

Suitably, his list is diverse. 'The late Adrian Howells is my first touchstone here. F.K Alexander, Lea Cummings, Satya Dunning, Jer Reid and Iona Kewney.' Howells was a pioneer of 'intimate theatre,' the one-to-one with a spiritual resonance; Alexander, Cummings and Reid are musicians (and more), Kewney and Dunning are dancers but with very different approaches. 

Throughout his answers, Paul Michael Henry maintains an amiable ambiguity about his influences: willing to recognise himself as a Glasgow-based artist, he sees an international perspective and delights in the complexity of his position.

'I am at heart an internationalist (or more accurately, a universalist). That said, I'm writing this in a moment when my Scottishness is kicking harder than I can remember, triggered by the Referendum debates and also by study of disciplines such as Butoh dance which is Japanese in origin. I haven't felt very Scottish in the past but I'm certainly not Japanese, so where does that leave me?'

This questioning is reflected in his performances: at Moving Bodies, he took time to engage with every single audience member and essayed a piece that emerged from fragments of western dance and Butoh's eastern aesthetic. His belief in the power of art to move - to be political without being explicit or issue based - and his exquisite taste as a curator (Ken Mai blew my mind and confused my understanding of gender identity) might connect with other artists in Glasgow and around the world, but his actual performances make him unique. 

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