What is Butoh?
Butoh was a movement that began in Japan in the late fifties. It was rebellion against Western dance and Japanese Traditional dance. It also has it's roots in German Expressionism.(Die Neue Tanz)
Tatsumi Hijikata was the founder of Butoh. He was inspired by the writings of Jean Genet, the Marquis De Sade, and Antonin Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty. Butoh was born out of Post war Japan. It was a movement that was a search for a new identity, to establish meaning for a society after defeat. Butoh the dance of darkness is an exploration into the unconscious, it is the realm of the imagination, and shadows.It also investigates the pre-history of man; the primordial. (What was your face, before you were born? [A Zen koan])
Hijikata also collaborated with Kazuo Ohno in the late fifties. Mr. Ohno is one of the driving forces of butoh, he studied with Takaya Eguchi a pupil of Mary Wigman.
Hijikata's choreographic debut was a scandal. He asked permission to use Yukio Mishma's novel Forbidden Colors, as the subject for his dance. The dance having a homosexual theme outraged the audience, and the All Japan Modern Dance Association banned Hijkata as an out law. He was considered a dangerous dancer. Mishma was enthralled by the performance. They went on to become friends and colleagues.
Flamenco, jazz dance, and American Modern dance also influenced Hijikata.
It was in the turbulent sixties that Butoh became it's own art form. The zeitgeist was experimentation and exploration. His studio became his laboratory and his dancers his test tubes. It was during this time that Hijikata was to finally break away from the influences of modern dance, and discover his own language. It was here that dancers would improvise and study the movements of a chicken, to become the chicken, and other images based on nature.
Butoh is somewhere between dance and theatre. The spirit of Butoh can differ depending on the sensibility of the artist.
Kazuo Ohno is a Christian, and it seems that in much of his work there is generated a feeling of great love and compassion. There is also an element of mime in his work, and an expression of great joy. His dance La Argentina is homage to the dancer Antonia Mercé. It was her performance that so moved Kazuo Ohno, that he decided to become a dancer. He was also in awe of Jean- Louis Barrault's role of Baptise in the Marcel Carné film Children of Paradise in which his character plays Pierrot, for the 19th century French Pantomime troupe.( The film was shot during French occupation, and many of the extras were in the French resistance. Also Etienne De Crux, the father of French mime, plays the part of Bapties's father.)
In Butoh there is a strong element of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Atomic bomb devastated Japan, but the consciousness of humanity was held hostage. The impossible was now possible; complete and utter annihilation.
It is the feeling of a silent scream, which sometimes underscoures Butoh.
Tasumi Hijikata left this plane in 1986. The legacy that he left us was Butoh. Hijikata was to Butoh, what Martha Graham was to American Modern dance. He was the trunk of the tree, and other dancers became the branches: Min Tanaka, Akaji Maro, Natsu Nakajima, Ushio Amagatsu (The founder of Sanki Juku) to name a few. There are also butoh groups in Europe, The United States, and South America
Enter the stage,
It is sacred; the dream begins...
I am a man, I am a woman, I am no one, I am everyone.
At times it feels that I am not human,
The raging monster begins to surface,
He dies, my blood seeps into the ocean,
Salt, fish, seaweed
I am being pulled by the moon,
The ebb and flow lulls me into timelessness,
The constellations reflects on the sea.
Ah... this is the realm of Butoh
Poem by Laurence Rawlins
© April 27, 1998