Mysterious, cathartic, nihilistic, violent, grotesque, erotic, spiritual, physical, provocative, shocking...This adjectives are commonly used to describe the art of butoh.
Butoh, literally meaning stamping dance, is commonly seen as a strange kind of theatre performance and not usually considered as a dancing act. Butoh, which in japanese consists of two characters "舞" for dance, and "踏" for step, first appeared after World War II and specifically after the student riots challenging those days authorities' roles in Japan. In 1959, a scandal-provoker short performance without music called Kinjiki (Forbidden Colours) generated a great repercussion due to its content, which explored homosexuality and pedophilia. In this act, a chicken ends strangled by a young boy played by Yoshito Ohno (Butoh-founder Kazuo Ohno's son).
If something a butoh performer doesn't lack of, that is obviously improvisation. The acts of this dance are seen as a mixture of elements of traditional Japanese theater, german expressionist dance Ausdrucktanz and mime. The artists, with white painted basically-naked bodies and bold heads, bit by bit move while showing contorted positions. The mechanism of performing butoh relies in becoming someone or something else, not expressing through your body an emotion or abstract idea, which is considered to be the procedure for conventional dance. To illustrate this concept, great japanese butoh dancer Ojima Ichiro takes as example incarnating a rooster: "The idea was to push out all of the human inside and let the bird take its place. You may start by imitating, but imitation is not your final goal; when you believe you are thinking completely like a chicken you have succeeded."
The below short video represents part of an act during the 'Oguri Hangan and Terutehime' butoh performance dated in 1994, a miraculeous story from the medival ages of Japan. According to the legend, Oguri Hangan's wife, Terutehime, and many other pilgrims in turns, carried his diseased body in an old wooden cart all the way from Edo (nowadays Tokyo) to Hongu to soak in the local hotsprings. After absorbing the healing powers of the Yunomune Hotsprings (Tsuboyu), Oguri Hangan recovered from his disease, as if responding to his wife's wish to see him healed even risking of her own life. Kazuo Ohno and Yoshito Ohno appear in the video. The quality is not the best, but please enjoy it!
Forthcoming Butoh events in Tokyo:
(“Light in an Abandoned Garden”)
A work about “the ruins that reside within ourselves”, as producer Takateru Kudo explains.
Date: June 10-12. 7:30pm
-Workshop in Tokyo (Regular classes)
Held by Natsu Nakajima, highly acclaimed dancer and founder of Mutekisha Dance Company in 1969.
Date: Every monday, tuesday and friday from 7 pm
Venue: 5 min walk from Yotsuya San-Chome station (Subway Marunouchi line)
Tuition: 2,000YEN per class