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Hollywood Fringe 2019

Hide Your Fires: Butoh Lady Macbeth

Ren Gyo Soh

Genre: Dance and Movement Theatre, Solo Performance

Venue: The Lounge Theater - Lounge 1


Low Down

With incredible control and precision, Yoshiko Usami (aka Yokko) performs an hour-long blend of dance, movement and text to bring the full horrors of Lady Macbeth to life.


While Hollywood Fringe is a great opportunity for locals to test the self-producing waters, it’s also an incredible platform to see profound and polished works from international artists for less than the cost of an Umami burger. Hide Your Fires is the kind of show you’d shell out major coin for at REDCAT, but is available in the incredible intimacy of the Lounge Theatre for a mere $12. Here, we’re afforded an incredible chance to see a true artist perform her craft, which, through the Fringe has become accessible to the public at large.

Having previously wowed audiences with her Butoh Medea, Yokko returns to the Hollywood Fringe with a new piece centering on Lady Macbeth, which is just as captivating. Just like Medea, Lady Macbeth shares a dark, brutal and passionate core that makes her an ideal subject for Yukko’s butoh adaption. The style of dance, also known as ankoku butoh or “the dance of utter darkness” ranges in interpretation, but often manifests in a blend of movement that ranges from extremely precise and almost imperceivable to disjointed and angular gestures that mechanize the body. It’s an utterly brilliant choice to use butoh to convey Lady Macbeth’s journey from raw ambition into madness—the unnatural motions complement Lady M’s transformation, seeming to take hold of her as if she is actually possessed by the spirits on whom she has called.

Yokko is in complete control from start to finish—during preshow, she already stands, a frozen statue, rotating with the tiniest motion, her gesture only melting when the story begins. She takes us through the story of Lady Macbeth with the help of a gorgeous, haunting soundscape and affective lighting that keep the audience under her spell. While Yokko does speak occasional lines of text, the show is at its strongest when the body takes over—and this is most of the show. Sometimes she is a crumpled ball of terror, sometimes a confident and joyful seductress, sometimes a monstrous, clawing thing, leaning backwards at an angle that does not seem humanly possible. Every moment Yokko moves is intentional, and for this reason it is impossible to look away.

Ironically, I’d say the moments of Shakespearean text are those that most weaken the spell—strange to think a Lady Macbeth could be more potent without those words that give her power, yet as a second-language English speaker, it makes sense that Yokko is at her greatest when she allows her movements to do the talking. This is, however, addressed in a very impactful way—as Lady Macbeth grows increasingly frenzied, all semblance of control and order start to fall away, and with it, so does the English language, as Yokko begins to tear around the stage, frantically spouting her native Japanese. It might be interesting to see an incarnation of this piece with no speaking at all, maintaining only voiceover as established in the opening sound design, though that would also eliminate what I imagine must be essential moments of rest in this incredibly demanding physical show. Nevertheless, the power and potency of Yokko’s performance was undeniable, inspiring a well-deserved standing ovation from our grateful audience, all of whom virtually sprang to their feet as soon as she concluded.

Hide Your Fires is a show that is not to be missed. While there are hundreds of shows to choose from at the Fringe and countless opportunities to see new adaptions of Macbeth, there is absolutely nothing else like this piece, and no Lady Macbeth like Yokko’s. Count yourself among the lucky if you land a ticket before she sells out.