Through 'ghostly' dance and moving pictures, Constance Humphries creates an art all her own

Jan 31, 2018


If there were a convenient way to do so, Constance Humphries would invite all her audiences inside her Asheville townhome to watch her perform.

“A gallery situation or small venue or even a house is ideal because I can be very close to my audience,” Humphries said. “I like to look at them, look in their eyes. I like to get in their space -- not in an aggressive way, but in a supportive way.”

Constance Humphries
Credit Caren Harris

Humphries practices the art of butoh dance. Here, she’s rehearsing in her carpeted bedroom, where there’s little, other than her bed, to get in her way. Humphries is premiering new work for a performance at Revolve February 10, and a series of works on video remain on the walls of Revolve through March 3.

“I feel like what I bring to the form is an incredible amount of determination to be present with my audience and be in the movement at all times,” she said.

Butoh has Japanese roots and it only looks ancient -- the form is only about 60 years old. The movements can seem shapeless and as slow as the minute hand of a clock.

With her shaved head, lean limbs and absence of facial expression, Humphries looks like a marionette. The atmospheric sound offers her nothing in the way of rhythm or melody to anchor her footing.

“There’s a ghostly-like quality,” Humphries said. “There are issues of weight and release and ways of moving the body that deal with gravity and energy, time, space and force.”

Humphries is a third-generation native of Asheville. She began clogging as a pre-schooler, when her father would take her to hear music, and she eventually studied art and became a modern dancer.

She went to Seattle in 2005 for her first butoh workshop and dove into intense study for another five years before feeling comfortable enough to think of herself as a butoh dancer.

“You have to be 100 percent present in all moments, which is different than my experience in modern and contemporary dance, where I was counting and thinking ahead and not present at all,” she said. “I’d rehearsed to the point of accuracy, but I certainly wasn’t in my body.”

Humphries movements are abstract, but she begins by digging deep into her own memories, history and emotional stress points.

“All my dances start with a personal experience,” she said. “I’m not communicating that to the audience, but that’s the core that I’m working with.”

Humphries also has backgrounds in video and visual art, and both merge with her movements in a series of compelling works on view now at Revolve Gallery. On borrowed ipods, ipads and other portable screens, her performances run in short loops that look like living black-and-white photographs, and the collection of them in one place makes clear Humphries isn’t merely a dancer, but an artist.

Humphries is 51 now, and she expects to express herself through butoh, and video, well into her senior years.

“It’s similar to a lot of movement-based activities that allow the form to be practiced in whatever body you happen to inhabit,” she said. “So I like to think when bits fall off and stop working, it will only add to my butoh.”