The mythological quest to express the sublime through the human body can be the great mystery and significance of dance. The grace and emotive gravity of dance inspire us to explore shared resonance and to comprehend our substance through a most intimate artistry. Yet we are ever limited by our human bodies, those endlessly elusive entities that enrobe our vocabularies and begin and end our extraordinary worlds. Butoh dancing (舞踏) is an expression of body that has found relevance outside of its roots in Japan, across cultures and generations.
Originally known only as the "dance of darkness" or "dance of death", Butoh has evolved into an encompassing expression of every element to be found through the human body. It does not transcend the human form or express a superhuman consciousness, but challenges us to comprehend ourselves through a different mentality. Despite the fairly recent origination of this dance form, it has quickly appealed and demonstrated that it speaks to something common within us, however we may allow our cultural and geographic borders to define us.
A Background on Butoh
Kazuo Ohno © H. Tsukamoto
Dance is a corporeal poetry that speaks to us through sensual body memory and intangible thought, thus communicating experience and expressing ideals. We may, for instance, find the most exquisite aspirations to perfection in the sculptural forms of ballet and the etiquettes of ballroom dance -- but what dance is there to speak of anguish and terror? What of the uncontainable spirit that seeps from our grotesque beings in spite of vigilant taboo? Would it not be deceptive to express the most visceral of human experience through only forms of chiseled beauty?
Dance that declares itself as an encompassing language for human experience yet speaks from under a veneer of piety for conventional aesthetics is fundamentally dishonest. With passionate protest to the void in integrity of expression and against standards of superficiality, Butoh emerged at the end of the 20th
It was in the shadow of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that Butoh's first breaths were drawn, already shuddering naked and borne by true darkness. Shaped into its ghostly form by dancers Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata, Butoh came to define Japanese avant-garde dance in its embrace of the totality of emotional experience and the absurdity found in the raw body. Ohno and Hijikata composed a new lyric for the human body where nothing was forbidden to experience. The revolutionary spirit of Butoh explored morbidity and sexuality in its most explicit forms. By doing so, it not only transformed the Japanese stage but connected with international audiences and dancers, tantalizing a universal desire for this same purity of expression. Until the '60s, there had been no such dance within Japan that allowed for the communication of the uninhibited body and, as far as technical form, there still exist few such parallels.
Kazuo Ohno & Tatsumi Hijikata
"Butoh, as [with] so many true arts, contains the beautiful spectrum of being. Often these ﬁrst looks at Butoh are early works of suffering individuals. I have found that once the repressed or taboo aspects of life and the soul are allowed to naturally surface through the body and art, the lightness and loving joy must also be revealed." - Maureen Freehill (Seattle-based Butoh dancer, Artistic Director of "Butopia")