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What Ibuki Kuramochi does isn’t just dance, and it isn’t just art. Instead, she combines butoh dance with live painting for unusual performances that are strangely beautiful, always changing and thoroughly mesmerizing.

Back in May, in an outdoor solo performance called Spirit at the Terasaki Nibei Foundation in West L.A., Kuramochi emerged from under a large, saucer-like straw hat draped in sheer red veils, through which she slowly and ritualistically twisted herself. She unwound her limbs languidly on a long, red carpet–like sheet that stretched behind her on the ground and was pinned vertically against a white wall, framed by green hedges layered with long red ribbons.

Suddenly, the tranquil spell shifted when the dancer turned toward the red sheet and began slashing at it with aggressive brushstrokes of black and white paint. The bold rhythms of Kuramochi’s dramatic movements were reflected in the kinetic patterns of her strikingly evolving, almost punk-rock live painting. The artist tore a hole in the painting and emerged from it as if in a daze, her hands rising above her head like waking flowers turning toward the sun.

“I’m always searching for pieces of myself that I’ve lost all over the world,” Kuramochi explains from her home in Sherman Oaks.

In June, at the memorial for LA Artcore founder Lydia Takeshita in Little Tokyo, Kuramochi bent and undulated her body as she solemnly wended her way through the mourners. Her already pale face and limbs were painted even whiter, and little cloud-like puffs floated within the translucent folds of her billowing white sleeves and gown as she moved her arms in dramatic, sweeping motions. Once again, it was hard to say which was more visually arresting — the abstract figures Kuramochi was painting black on a white dress suspended between pillars or the expressive movements she needed to manifest them.

“Lydia was one of my first supporters,” Kuramochi reminisces. “She passed away in her beloved rose garden. In her tribute, I painted a big rose for her and projected her journey to heaven. When I started the performance, some birds came and watched the performance. I could feel Lydia’s spirit while performing.”

Kuramochi’s other performances this year include Midori, in which she invoked the spirit of a marebito, a wise supernatural force, as she weaved her arms and painted within a virtual greenhouse of clear plastic panels in August at Radiant Space in Hollywood. The following month, she entered The Uterus — portraying a fetus attached to a long black rope — in an erotically tinged, darker and more unsettling performance at the opening reception of Echo Lew and Chenhung Chen’s “Time.Timeless” exhibit at Orange County Center for Contemporary Art in Santa Ana.

“At first, I made paintings before I started performing. My turning point was doing a live performance at an art-college festival,” Kuramochi recalls about her evolution as a painter. “That was the first art performance in my life. At that time, I just painted and moved my body to music freely. I and the audience were excited.”

Born in Gunma, Japan, she moved to Tokyo when she was 18 and lived there for a decade before relocating to Sherman Oaks. “After I graduated art college, I started a career as an artist, and I did many live-painting performances with different types of musicians, dancers and actors,” Kuramochi continues. “However, at some point I wanted to use my own movements as part of my performance.” The worlds of painting and butoh “combined together like a marriage” when she had a creative epiphany while taking a class from Yoshito Ohno, the son of legendary butoh iconoclast Kazuo Ohno.

When asked how living in Los Angeles has influenced her creativity, Kuramochi replied, “When I first came here, I was surprised of the abundance of nature. I think L.A. is a ‘contrast’ city. Nowadays, I often see wild coyotes in my neighborhood. When I saw the coyote’s eyes, I felt a butoh feeling. Sadness, quiet madness and loneliness. I’ve never seen those kind of eyes in my life. I’m thinking to include a coyote theme in my next art project.”

Ibuki Kuramochi (Photo: Danny Liao)