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History and origin of Butoh dance

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Tiare Keeno

on 29 April 2014

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Transcript of History and origin of Butoh dance

Origins of Butoh dance
Originated in Japan shortly after World War II
Tatsumi Hijikata and Ohno Kazuo were the founders of Butoh
Began as a repudiation against westernized contemporary, modern, and classical dance
Response to the social and political changes of post-war Japan
What is Butoh?
The Art of Butoh
Butoh is a dance art form that aims at exploring new meanings of the conventional definition of "beauty" through the medium of the human body. It examines the ugly depths of the human by using many contorted and deformed positions with an emphasis on facial expression. It is an internal, personal expression that can be danced with or without an audience. The movement and music in Butoh are usually both minimalistic, slow and improvised much of the time. There is no codified or established technique for Butoh. It is thought of as an ever-changing art that draws inspiration on German expressionism and Japanese culture.

"[Butoh] is not filtered through classical or folk forms, but its basic material is the body itself in its changing conditions" (Fraleigh, pg. 11)
"Bu" means "dance" and "to" means "step." So in the simplest terms, Butoh means "dance step."
Ankoku Butoh means "dark dance."
Hijikata used many grotesque images, darkness, sexuality, and death in Ankoku Butoh.

"The proponents of butoh seek something more basic than promises of progress. They turn back time and investigate themselves in basic terms of the human body and, even more broadly, the human." (Fraleigh pg. 4)

"Butoh is not something you can do casually. The body must be in a constant state of change." (Ashikawa)
Butoh is often danced naked or partially naked with cloth or skirts, exposing the vulnerability of the body and spirit.
The makeup is usually white and dusty to resemble ghostly creatures or death.
The image of Butoh dancers are often uneasy and frightening.
The movement is minimal, animalistic, and visceral. There is an emphasis on articulation of hands, fingers, and face.
Aesthetics of Butoh
Tatsumi Hijikata (1928-1986)
Born in northern Japan in 1928
Tenth out of eleven children in his family
Moved to Tokyo permanently in 1952
Studied tap, jazz, ballet, flamenco, and German expressionism
Rejected influences of Westernized dance forms
Conceived Butoh dance following World War II in the 1950s
Heavily influenced by French novelist Jean Genet
Kazuo Ohno (1906-2010)
Born in Hakodate City, Japan in 1906
Father was a fisherman and mother was a chef
Graduated from Japan Athletic College
Became a physical education teacher
Studied modern dance with Eguch Takaya and Ishii Baku
Served in the war for nearly 9 years
Inspired by Spanish dancer, Antonia Mercè to start dancing again after the war
Established Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio in 1949
His son, Yoshito Ohno carries on his father's legacy at the Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio
"There are always hidden wounds, those of the heart, and if you know how to accept and endure them, you will discover the pain and joy which is impossible to express with words. You will reach the realm of poetry which only the body can express." (Ohno)

"Taking into your own body the idea that your wrist is not your own - there's an important secret hidden in this concept." (Hijikata)
Hijikata and Ohno
Watch: theguardian.com - "The spirit was gone: a tribute to Kazuo Ohno"
Watch: YouTube video clip - "Hijikata Tatsumi/Hosotan part 2"
Notable Butoh Works

"Jellyfish Dance"
"Admiring La Argentina"
"Dance of de Flounder"
"My Mother"
"The Dead Sea"
"Rebellion of the Body"
"Water Lilies"
"The Road in Heaven, the Road in Earth"

Hijikata and Ohno began collaborating in the 1950s. The first Butoh piece they choreographed was called "Kinjiki" or 'Forbidden Colors." It premiered at a dance festival in 1959 and was performed by Yoshito Ohno, Kazuo's son. The dance was not well-received and resulted in them being banned from the festival. Hijikata and Ohno continued to collaborate frequently for the next couple of decades, with Hijikata directing Ohno's dances that he performed with much more success. In later years, after Hijikata's death, Ohno took his own route to Butoh and went on to become a distinguished figure in the world of Butoh dance in Japan.
Watch: YouTube video clip - "Kazuo Ohno <Dance of de Flounder>"
Key Figures of Butoh
Tatsumi Hijikata
Kazuo Ohno
Yoko Ashikawa (Hijikata's principle dancer)
Yoshito Ohno (Kazuo's son)
Koichi Tamano
Min Tanaka
Ushio Amagatsu
Evolution and personal views

One of the main concepts of Butoh is that the body is in a constant state of change. Thus, the art of Butoh has remained in a constant state of change throughout the years. After many decades, Butoh has evolved through different physical styles while still holding true to the integrity of the original method of Butoh - discovering the depths of pure body and spirit through movement. In recent years, Butoh festivals have been expanding and developing throughout the U.S, Latin America, and Europe. Butoh is also trying to expand the genre of people and dancers who perform this art form and include different ethnic backgrounds other than just solely dancers of Japanese ethnicity.

Personally speaking, Butoh seems to be much more for the sake of the individual and the process rather than for the end product and entertainment purposes. The aesthetics of Butoh can appear to be ugly and unpleasant to watch. However, knowing that the intention for Butoh is a continual journey, requiring mental stamina to lose the ego of oneself and become lost in the body and spirit, Butoh becomes rather beautiful to witness. Also, although the original idea of Butoh was to reject the westernized forms of classical and modern dance, there are still hints of certain techniques in Butoh. For example, with the visceral, spiritual core movements, it is clear to see the influence of Martha Graham.

Watch: Vimeo - "Butoh Solo Improvisation at
Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio"

The Art of Butoh continued
Butoh has been discussed as a physical form joined with "unseen forces" that manipulate the body into various deformed positions. Additionally, heavy influences of Zen Buddhism and surrealism have been weaved into Butoh dancing. The dancer is seen as an objectified body, freeing themselves from specific identification as they dance and "integrate the dichotomy of the consciousness vs. unconsciousness." (Toshiharu Kasai)

"There are those who believe that the body is physically moved by unseen forces that inhabit the flesh." (Akaji Maro)


Part of Hijikata's philosophy was that there is
a dance happening in the body throughout life, whether or not it is visible.

Does the concept of dance being such an integral part of life diminish the significance of dance as a high art form?

Butoh Dance: Exploring the visceral depths of body and spirit

Butoh Solo Improvisation at Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio. Dir. Gustavo Thomas. Perf. Gustavo Thomas. Vimeo
. Gustavo Thomas, May 2013. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.

Fraleigh, Sondra H.
Butoh: Metamorphic Dance and Global Alchemy
. Urbana, I11: University of Illinois Press, 2010. Print.

Hijikata, Tatsumi, Michael Blackwood, Bonnie S. Stein, and Lynn Piasecki.
Butoh: Body on the Edge of Crisis
. New York, NY: Michael Blackwood Productions, 1997.

Hoffman, Ethan, and Mark Holborn.
Butoh: Dance of the Dark Soul
. New York, NY: Aperture, 1987. Print.

Kai, Deai. "Kazuo Ohno Dance of de Flounder" Online video clip.
. YouTube, 31 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

Kasai, Toshiharu. "A Note on Butoh Body."
Memoir of the Hokkaido Institute of Technology
, Vol. 28 (2000): 353-360. Google. Web. 13 May 2014.

Subbodycobodybutoh. "Hijikata Tatsumi/Hosotan part 2" Online video clip.
. Youtube, 6 Jan. 2009. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

The Spirit Was Gone: A Tribute to Kazuo Ohno
. Prod. Peter Sempel. Perf. Kazuo Ohno and Antony & the Johnsons.
The Guardian
. N.p., 12 Oct. 2010. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.
Full transcript