By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"Wow," one dancer says, holding up a swatch of stretchy fabric. "You could make a thong out of this stuff."
"We look like rejects from an Issey Miyake fashion show," says another.
More like extras from Monty Python's The Holy Grail, I think, as I set to knotting and shredding my own beggar's wear.
Talkington and Carla Melo, members of the butoh collective Somavox, came up with this escapade, the first of many butoh street rituals/protests called Corpus Delecti. Talkington later tells me he wants to amass a regiment of 1,000 "butoh troops" moving in unison through downtown.
Frankly, I'm skeptical. Butoh is a raw, starkly expressive style of avant-garde dance developed in Japan in the late 1950s that prioritizes being over doing. (Talkington calls it a "waking dream.") While kinetic extremes, from the painfully slow to the frenzied, are common, practitioners are more apt to wax philosophical about inhabiting emotional states than to discuss specific techniques. How, I wonder, will this highly individualistic expression jibe with Melo and Talkington's vision of coordinated mass motion?
It takes us almost two hours to get ready. Several women cover their faces in makeshift chadors and veils. One man has encased his face in twine. Talkington — balding, bearded and rail-thin — comes off as a post-apocalyptic Hare Krishna. After drenching any exposed flesh in the white paint of the butoh-ista (finished off with a dusting of cornstarch), we gather in the courtyard.
Melo tells us to bend our knees, drop our center of gravity, release the tension in our limbs, let our faces go vacant, stare ahead but sense the people around us. When all else fails we are to focus on our motivation, which today is to embody grief. Talkington instructs us to always maintain a diamond formation and "flock" — an en masse game of following the leaders assigned to the outermost corners whenever we turn toward their direction. If we need to catch up to the march, we will fall, roll, and run as fast as possible.
FROM THE MOMENT WE HEAD OUT, our group — now grown to 24 — commands attention. Tourists' cameras flash along Hollywood Boulevard. Applause erupts. Drivers pull over to ask who we are. True to our intention, we trudge mutely onward without answering. People speculate out loud that we're the walking dead. Others say we're angels. Or the victims of 9/11. The shadows of Nagasaki. Iraqis fleeing a bombed-out village.
We struggle to keep up with the march, but end up at the rear sooner than expected. Worse, we can't move forward — clicking and flashing paparazzi encircle us. Motorcycle police hound our heels, demanding that we pick up the pace. Talkington responds — with unerring instincts for a photo-op — by raising his arms overhead in the gesture of a bound prisoner. The rest of us follow suit, and the crowd goes wild. Encouraged to "Fight the Power," we drop onto our bellies and crawl.
After one especially well-executed flocking turn someone yells out, "Ooohhh, choreography!" (Who says Angelenos hate dance?) But the synchrony is short-lived: Everyone has their own idea of how slow our meditative walk is supposed to be. We devise impromptu interactive dramas of anguish and terror. We cringe and point whenever a helicopter passes overhead; wail and keen over the bodies of fallen brethren; fall, rise, and carry each other along. We break into spontaneous bursts of fleeing or screaming.
Somewhere around the Pig 'n Whistle we pick up another white-clad figure with a pillowcase over his face and tube socks covering his arms and hands. Fernando, a Salvadoran refugee, had been playing dead under a bench until he found us — his kindred spirits.
When we finally near the corner of Sunset and La Brea, the police, thinking we're part of the entertainment, usher us into a mini-mall to the left of the stage. Bottlenecked by the crowd, we break into a final photo-op performance in front of the Army Recruiting Center. We're nearing the four-hour mark and when a band starts up, I silently pray our cadre of butoh soldiers will break out in a funky groove, high five each other and finally just stop. At last we circle inward, rise and somberly leave the parking lot in a single file. My face is slack now with a new intention: to climb into a hot bath with a stiff drink.
JUST BEFORE THE PEACE MARCH Saturday, Hollywood's 101 Coffee Shop hums with an urgency above and beyond the call of a Saturday-morning "Nicky P" (two eggs any style, French toast or pancakes, bacon or sausage). There's a line to get in, but I'm here with the Most Important Man in Hollywood Without a Job (M.I. for short), and he is already shaking hands with Hollywood heroes/casualties Ricky Vodka and Nicky P (for whom the popular breakfast combo is named). We sit with two of the M.I.'s New York friends, the designer Cynthia Rowley and her boyfriend, Bill, a white guy who once sported an Afro that would make the Mod Squad's Link jealous, and used to have a full-length coat crafted from a sleeping bag. The joke was that he could sleep wherever he dropped. We order our breakfasts — three Nicky P's and two smoothies — and catch up briefly, which means we discuss M.I.'s epic beard ("Hasidic chic") and Bill's salt-'n'-pepper non-Afro.