Recently I was introduced to butoh, an artistic form of movement comprising elements of dance & theatre, which has its origins in post-war Japan. One of its outstanding practitioners, Gyohei Zaitsu, came to perform at the Hangar in Poblenou, Barcelona, & I had the privilege of being asked to photograph the show by its organiser, Orland Verdú.
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For this weeks post I decided, after poring over various online research sources for a while & finding myself a little out of my depth, that I would attempt to enrole an old friend of mine to collaborate with me in presenting to you a brief survey of butoh's background & influences.
To my delight she accepted. So this weeks blog comprises a three-way collaboration, I am very grateful to be part of, between the photographed butoh performer Gyohei Zaitsu, butoh performer & published author Alkistis Dimech, & myself.
I very much enjoyed shooting the photographs shown here, although the lighting was very low & I was bound to using the shutter at opportune moments when the improvised music was at its most audible, so as not to be heard throughout the performance. Also I was forbidden from moving.
But far from feeling deterred by these apparent restrictions, I crouched alertly for the duration of the performance, ready at any given moment to capture Gyohei's form, animated by his unperturbed spirit, as it traversed the stark warehouse space, teased & punctuated by the scrapings, clanging & industrial murmurings generated by the improvising musician, ............?
Few performance experiences have left me feeling so liberated & strangely 'educated', & I look forward with great anticipation to photographing Gyohei again.
So from hereon I leave you with the guts of this post, written by Alkistis, which I very much hope will inspire you to either seek out & attend a butoh performance, whether near or far, or even brave a workshop experience. Either way, with an open & inquisitve mind you are sure to find something unexpected through butoh, maybe profoundly so, & certainly something new in you.
A few words on ankoku butoh’s originary influences - by Alkistis Dimech
With the proviso that ankoku butoh, the dance of darkness, is the most paradoxical of arts – it is neither a defined nor even a defineable form – the following is a brief background to the dance. Emerging in 1959, with the performance-happening of Hijikata Tatsumi’s Forbidden Colours (based on Mishima’s novel Kinjiki), its antecessors are diverse. Despite claims by some practitioners and critics that it can be performed only by ‘the Japanese body,’ the influences that coalesced at its birth derive as much from West as East, and evince both continuity with Japan’s cultural heritage and a rupture with it.
The Japanese angura (underground) was a potent cauldron of artistic experimentation and revolutionary politics. It existed in response, and in relation to a global avant-garde movement that sustained a febrile atmosphere of questioning and rebellion. Butoh was one of many performance forms concerned with the role of the body as a force and site of revolt within a materialist, capitalist culture that imposed an ideology of relentless production/consumption on it. Dance in particular is anathema to commodification; the dancer’s energy is wantonly poured into non-productive endeavour, provoking and delighting in the fleeting, the sensual, the erotic, the absurd, the grotesque and the horrific.
Translations of works by de Sade, Lautréamont, Genet, Artaud and the Surrealists were critical stimuli in the intellectual avant-garde of post-Hiroshima Japan. Ausdruckstanz, the German Expressionist dance, was another germinal influence; works such as Mary Wigman’s Witch Dance pioneered the independence of dance as an art form, the moving body needing no accompaniment beyond its own rhythms and melodies. Seminal too were the radical choreographies of Nijinsky, particularly his Faun and the savagery of The Rite of Spring; but above all what he represented as a dancer – sexual ambivalence, physical daring and an almost shamanic power of transformation – a vision first articulated by Alfred Jarry in Messaline in the character of the acrobat Mnester. And the young Kazuo Ohno, who became Hijikata’s main collaborator in the development of butoh, was inspired to begin dancing after seeing Antonia Mercé y Luque, known as La Argentina, whose creative fire and artistry also reinvigorated Spanish dance.
The other vital element in butoh’s formation is the remote northern land of Tôhoku, Hijikata’s birthplace. Its harsh climate and geography left an indelible mark on Hijikata’s body and psyche, which he in turn would imprint upon his dancers in choreographies devised in the hothouse atmosphere of the Asbestos Studio in Tokyo: peasant bodies bent in the rice fields, carved by the wind and a regime of poverty. On account of its distance from the pressures of modernisation, Tôhoku retained a great deal of folk lore and folk practice – and a reputation for being inhabited by kami and spirits, such as the sickle-weasel Hijikata would incarnate in Eiko Hosoe’s photographic series Kamaitachi. Here is the deep well of memory that Hijikata would draw from while situated at the heart of Tokyo’s artistic milieu. Butoh became a catalyst for all forms of artistic expression. To quote Yukio Waguri, a student of Hijikata, it ‘rolled up writers, painters, designers, photographers, visual artists and theatre artists, searching for possibilities of new expressions, into its whirlpool, spawning the avant-garde art movement of the 60s and 70s.’
Thanks for visiting the blog!
Gyohei Zaitsu: http://www.lepetitfestival.com/performers/2012-gyohei-zaitsu.htm
Alkistis Dimech: http://sabbaticdance.com/
Hangar (venue): https://hangar.org/ca/
I am a freelance photographer specialising in performance arts.
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