Butoh   舞踏

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Dancer in the dark

More than a codified dance, Butoh is a concept, a way of perceiving the world. The body itself is a work of art. Attitudes, trait twists, but not a play. Artists express feelings; feelings that the artist lives on stage. It is impossible to remain indifferent. Whether irritated by the strangeness or fascinated by the gestures, the viewer is seized.

The stage is bare, the bodies are white. The dancers move in near darkness with a slow air. Their muscles are clenched in marble dumb pain. Butoh is close to a revolutionary, transgressive performance art. Born in Japan in the 1960s, it is the art of a distressed Japan shattered by the Second World War and the nuclear bombing.

HIJITAKA Tatsumi (1928-1986), the founder, created the Kinjiki piece in 1959, inspired by a novel by Yukio Mishima (1925-1970). Hijitaka worked with Kazuo Ohno (1906-2010), the historical co-founder, who performed on stage until the last years of his life. The show became a scandal immediately. And because of the physical relationship between the actor Yoshito Ohno (Kazuo's son) and a bird, it does not win over the audience. To the delight of its fathers, the sulfur smell never left Butoh.

At the heart of darkness

Communication with unseen spirits, appealing to laws beyond. This is their ambition. To awaken the hidden powers lurking in the dark of night, in the depths of the human soul. This inclusion of Man in Nature reveals the strong influence of Shintoism. Shaven-headed dancers, their skin covered with white powder, and lymph movements place them at the border of mineral, vegetable and animal.

Butoh rejects forms of traditional Japanese theater, like Noh and Kabuki. It is the quest for a lost identity. In 1945, Hijikata was 22 years old. The defeat and occupation of Japan plunged the country into an unthinkable year. The dancer and choreographer IKKO Tamura, a member of the company Dairakudakan created by Akaji Maro, says:

"I think that part of the story really contributed to the birth of this form of expression. It symbolizes the defeat of our country and questioned the notion of a "Greater Japan". It was a violent change. Japan was confronted with a monstrous disaster and then was forced to radically change its values. We wondered what Japan would eventually become. " [1]

The First World War and its bloody madness stripped the confidence from human progress and gave birth to Dadaism and Surrealism. World War II and the gaping wound it left in the faith of mankind generated a new fascination with the absurd among artists worldwide. Rationality pushed to the edge led to an unprecedented inhumanity, a total reversal of values.  There was an abolition of the traditional principles that could still be seen as human.

The Japanese postwar scene reminds one of the universe of Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett and share with them in this radical absurdity. It challenges the traditional view of the relationship of man and his environment.

Something local

Expression of angst, Butoh seeks salvation in a return to the primitive union of Man and Nature. Since the scientific and technical progress led to the barbarism of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima (August 6th, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9th, 1945), the return to nature is the outcome.

The dancer's body is an extension of the land. After all, the term butoh means "dance that hits the ground." Thus Hijikata developed a technique called ganimata, literally "bowed legs." The artist is dancing, feeling the weight of the mud that surrounds his feet, and the weight of the earth pressed against his body.

"Butoh dancers look as if they are learning how to stand like a Japanese. Hijikata grew up in Akita, a major rice-growing region. The dance style is based on the feeling of having two legs planted in the mud of a rice field. Each person has their own experiences related to the place where he or she grew up. Something local. So we tried to transform these very local characteristics in something universal. " [2]

There are many Butoh sensibilities, and each dancer feeds his art with his own experience. Any movement of daily life can become a form of beauty in the eye and consciousness of he who perceives it. Butoh may exist in old lady like gestures or those of a chef using his yakitori skewers.

Nobody is a prophet ...

Butoh companies are less known in Japan than abroad. Ushio Amagatsu and Carlotta Ikeda are among the most famous dancers in the West. Amagatsu is the founder of the Sankai Juku who participated at the Avignon Festival in 1981 with the creation Bakki. They also performed at the Lyon Dance Biennale in 2012 with the show Umusuna.

In recent years, however, Butoh is gaining popularity in its native country. The Keio University in Tokyo has rich documentary records of Hijikata's early stage performances. Similarly, Yoshito Ohno continues to use his passion by teaching students from around the world in the studio of his father in Kamihoshikawa, near the city of Yokohama. The only one trip to the end of a Butoh occasion.

[1] IKKO Tamura, House of Culture of Japan in Paris, interview, August 19, 2011

[2] ditto



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