KAZUO OHNO

                                         KAZUO OHNO

                                     Yoko Ashikawa

                                    Yoko Ashikawa

Butoh is an avant-garde art form born in Japan in the 1950’s. Butoh developed at the height of the Japanese Counter Culture Movement and was influenced by surrealism, neo dada, French mime techniques, ballet, flamenco, Neue Tanz (German Expressionist dance) as well as French and European literature. Developed by Tatsumi Hijikata and Ohno Kazuo, in collaboration with other artists such as Yoshito Ohno, Akira Kasai and others, butoh split into two forms of dance, one choreographed, the other, improvised. Under Tatsumi Hijikata’s guidance, in the late 60's early 70's, butoh reached a new stage, marked by the entrance of female dancers on the butoh scene. Female butoh dancers such as Yoko Ashikawa, Natsu Nakajima, Saga Kobayashi profoundly influenced the course of the art form and its development. Hijikata developed a strictly choreographed method, while Kazuo Ohno, who preferred improvisation, performed well into his 90’s all over the world and favored an expansive, spiritual approach to butoh.

Butoh was born at a tumultuous time in Japan’s history. Today, there are numerous butoh expressions, and the art form ranges from a minimalist expression, to the grotesque and theatrical. The most renown Butoh group worldwide is Sankai Juku who is based in Paris. Although butoh is commonly known for its controversial topics, the “choreographed method” devised by Tatsumi Hijikata represents a revolution in the world of dance. Butoh dancers are expected not only to learn movements, but they also work like method actors; each movement is informed by notations (scripted directions). Surrealist techniques are used to generate movements layered with emotions and sensations. Butoh represents a shift from the conscious to the subconscious, and each movement, even when it is choreographed, comes from within and must be authentic.

In the 1970’s, Butoh’s encounter with the Western World (in France between 1976 and 1980) forever changed its course. Encouraged by the positive response from European critics, the vast majority of the second butoh generation settled in Europe. Consequently, a new wave of butoh developed. A third and fourth wave is presently under way, resulting in the cross-cultural exchange between Japanese practitioners and non-Japanese. Butoh is practiced today in Europe, North and South America, Australia and Asia.

Butoh comes from “Ankoku Butoh” and means “Dance of Utter Darkness”. The founder of Butoh, Tatsumi Hijikata, wrote: “The utter darkness exists throughout the world, doesn’t it? To think is the dark”. With this statement, Hijikata pointed out that all human beings carry an unconscious side. Although it is tempting to stereotype butoh, “Darkness” in butoh refers to what is hidden from our awareness, our unconsciousness and does not have Judeo Christian connotations.

Photo Eikoh Hosoe- Hijikata and a girl - Kamaitachi

In Eikoh Hosoe's film Navel and A-Bomb, featuring Hijikata Tatsumi (土方巽) and his choreography, the (Japanese) body is connected to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the utter destruction of Japan. Navel and A-Bomb (1960) figures the 'birth' of a new Japanese identity in the wake of the atomic catastrophe, the subsequent defeat and occupation of Japan.

Hosoe met Hijikata the year prior to Navel and A-Bomb. In 1959 Hijikata choreographed and performed Kinjiki (Forbidden Colors), based on the homosexual imagery found in Yukio Mishima's novel of the same name published in 1951.

Starring Tatsumi Hijikata, Yoshito Ohno (大野慶人) , etc. Music: Norio Maeda, Sadao Watanabe etc. Poetry: Taro Yamamoto.


“I would love to offer you even something as tiny as a grain of sand. If only I could succeed in doing that, then I might fulfill my longing to share a part of my life with you. Isn’t it worth risking one’s life to offer something as microscopic as that tiny single grain of sand chosen from amidst countless millions? Take great care at all times. Even the most infinitesimal detail of the slightest gesture you make should be executed with loving care.
It’s never too late to start”
-Kazuo Ohno, from Kazuo Ohno’s World: From Without & Within

“My soul is turning to ashes.
If I breathe out
They spill from my body.
I breathe myself in and out.
My soul floats throughout the sky
As it turns to ashes and falls.”
-Kazuo Ohno, from Kazuo Ohno’s World: From Without & Within

“A great many people are constantly coming to life in me. Aren’t they reaching out to me in my day-to-day life as their souls permeate my body? That’s not inconceivable. Since each and everyone of us is born in and of this universe, we’re linked to every single thing in it. There’s nothing to stop us from reaching out and touching the entire universe.”
-Kazuo Ohno, from Kazuo Ohno’s World: From Without & Within

We weren’t conscious of what we were doing as we devoured each other. On eating our fill, we both ceased to exist, leaving only love in our wake. Did I sacrifice myself as we tore into each other? He allowed me eat my fill. For my part, I ate as much I wanted. He offered me everything, and I likewise offered him all I had to give.
We can take each other’s life, just as we can allow each other to live. Knowing that we can’t extricate ourselves from the life cycle, we didn’t suffer as a result of following our instincts. We took great pleasure in being devoured. It was just as though we were frolicking about like children. We found gratification in eating our fill, by devouring each other.
And now, I live in a world where I strum this wooden floor beneath my feet. I live in a world where there are no boundaries between here and the hereafter.
Kazuo Ohno, from Kazuo Ohno’s World: From Without & Within


"Since the Body itself perishes, it has a form. Butoh has another dimension" - Tatsumi Hijikata

( 1998-295) Hijikata Tatsumi- The words of Butoh

"The Body is constantly violated by things like the development of technology" Tatsumi Hijikata

(1969: 19) Hijikata Tatsumi- The words of Butoh

"Underground art turns into mere trendiness because of the people practicing it. They create a desert around them, then complain there is no water, Why don't they try drinking from the well of their own bodies? Let them pluck the darkness from their own flesh."

Tatsumi Hijikata - The words of Butoh- 1968

Lecture & Screening Saturday, May 19 Bruce Baird on Tatsumi Hijikata and Butoh With a screening of Donald Richie's Sacrifice/Gisei (1959)