Butoh represents one of the most meaningful realities of the 20th century performing art history. The influential cultural character of this dance style has given impact to Europe, and all other countries in the world. Influenced by European expressionist dance, it was able to melt the structures of Japanese tradition into innovative boosts of the Japanese artistic avant-garde of the postwar period. It is a synthesis of Artaud’s visions, surrealistic painting and metaphysics, Rudolf Laban’s theories, Marta Graham’s rituality, Kantor’s ingenious madness and Mary Wigman’s freedom.
Butoh was born in Japan between the 1950s and 1970s. There were two outstanding revolutionaries of dance, Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno, and their revolutions were called “butoh” afterwards. They both brought dance over the edge breaking conventions and rules to reveal the truth of human in his life and death. They had different way to process but same final destination. Hijikata Tatsumi said: “Form goes first, soul follows”; Kazuo Ohno said: “Soul goes first, form follows”.
Tatsumi Hijikata as a dancer and as a director was a symbol of the avant-garde art scene of the post-war period of Japan and created a new esthetic on the stage that influenced visual art and attracted many writers, philosophers, photographers, painters, musicians, fashion designers. Thus he was the one who created the first underground scene in Japan after WWII. He developed a method to embody paintings, sculptures, words, sounds and everything around us, and thus transform the body and mind. And the quality of movements he created was extremely subtle. The dance he developed was deeply based on the Eastern idea of body, or rather based on the truth of the body. He died in 1984. Today there is an archive dedicated to him in Keio University Art Center in Tokyo.
Kazuo Ohno started to collaborate with Tatsumi Hijikata from the middle of 1950s. He was, more than a choreographer, an electric solo dancer. He had the unique gift of having learnt and read western dance and pantomime and recreated it in an extremely unique way; his way to dance tango, pantomime, waltz, “modern” dance and Japanese one became an universal dance that has touched people from all around the world. His original dance has included a century of dance history and theatre; he has combined the beauty and the grotesque, the sacred and the profane; his dance has been a way to live and make life blooming in poetry, a treasure for all human cultures. Kazuo Ohno passed away on 1st of June 2010 at the age of 103. He never stopped dancing even on the wheelchair, even when he could move only his hands, and still now he is probably dancing in the dreams. Since 2001 there is an archive dedicated to him in Bologna University at Dipartimento Musica e Spettacolo, Bologna. The Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio in Yokohama is now directed by his son, Yoshito Ohno.
Yoshito Ohno grew up and was in between the two founders since butoh was created. He was involved in the first butoh performance “Kinjiki” inspired by the novel of Yukio Mishima. His dance style is very far from the father and has a different character but at the same time contains the inherited essence of butoh: an incredible body density, very close to a moving sculpture. He keeps researching about the essence of butoh and teaches and dances at the Kazuo Ohno dance studio and all over the world for the next generations.
Butoh was born as a revolutionary movement in a post-WWII historical context in Japan. As times have changed so has Butoh changed rapidly. While strong counter-cultures have become weaker, globalization has spread rapidly shifting the power balance from some countries to others. The distances between countries and continents have become shorter: the food we eat, the t-shirts, the shoes we wear and the way we walk tell about our times. The question about what should remain of the butoh culture arises, and so about our creative role .
Things which are changed by time and place, things which are universal…
We are facing issues of our cultural and personal identity in the influence of the rapid globalization and mass-media, and in the rapid increase of the communication between countries and cultures. While it is easy to criticize globalization, we cannot return to our traditional cultures since they are losing their reality in our daily life. What Tatsumi Hijikata said has a deep meaning still now. “Why don’t we return to just our body?”. The identity is more diverse and flexible than we believe, and the East and the West, ancestors, animals and plants, the earth, the universe are all in body. Through this process we can connect to our traditions and other cultures, our ancestors, the earth, and the universe. The body is our country.
What we need to learn from the founders of butoh is not the style, but the method to go deeply into our body and mind through dance, the method that could enable us to go beyond our ego and to metamorphose into everything of the universe. This process is not a narrow genre called “butoh”, but the most fundamental theme of human beings, dance and cultures. Our wish is to research and develop such universal method and hand it over to the next generations. At the same time, we need to create a stages which emerges from our body and mind of this contemporary time.
The revolution of the dance has just started.