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Lunch-hour crowd sees dancer fall six stories to his death

SEATTLE -- A 'Dance of Birth and Death' by an avant-garde Japanese dance troupe turned into horror on a downtown street when a male dancer, his near-naked body whitened by flour, fell six stories to his death before a crowd of hundreds.

Yoshiyuki Takada, 31, an eight-year member of the five-man Sankai Juku dance company of Tokyo, was dead on arrival at Harborview Medical Center shortly after the lunch-hour accident Tuesday.

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Witnesses to the sudden tragedy cried out in disbelief.

The performance, subtitled a 'Dance of Birth and Death,' had four nearly nude dancers -- their heads shaven and their bodies coated with rice flour -- hanging upside down from the top of a building and being lowered, head-first, slowly to the ground.

The rope holding Takada by his ankles snapped.

'I thought it was a mannequin at first,' said David Boeri, a television reporter assigned to cover the performance of the revolutionary style of dance created in the wake of World War II.

Boeri, standing 10 feet from where the dancer landed on the pavement in front of the Mutual Life Building, said a part of the rope remained tied to the dancer's ankles.

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Jean Colman, another witness, said she expected the rope to catch Takada as he started falling 'but he just kept coming.'

The company was performing a dance, the 'Jomon Sho' (Homage to Prehistory), and had given hundreds of similar performances over the years in cities around the world. The troupe was in Seattle for shows at the University of Washington.

The Butoh style of dance was born in the 1960s as a revolt against the conventions of the traditional Kabuki theater and western ideas.

Takada, in a recent interview, said, 'Many dancers don't like to talk about Butoh because we are just now finding out what it is.'

The other three dancers stopped their performance, hung by their ropes for a few minutes and then slowly climbed back onto the roof instead of continuing their downward spiral.

The four members of the company -- dancers Goro Namerikawa, Keiji Morita and Atsushi Ogata and choreographer Ushio Amagatsu -- left the building without commenting.

Mark Murphy, spokesman for the sponsors of the troupe, said this was the first serious accident in their hanging performances.

The troupe's dance style returns dancers to elemental forces featuring near nudity -- the dancers wear only G-strings.

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