" The Body as Dance "
An Introduction to The Study of Butoh-ology
("Dance Seminer a nishiazabu" chapter 3 English Version)

written by keisuke Sakurai
translated by Asako maruno

     What is Butoh?  As a matter of fact, I really do not get it either.  
But Butoh surely moved me many a time.  Starting even from this 
fact, it must be something.  But I do not know what it is.  
Therefore, for the time being, let us try to grasp Butoh in brief in 
a textbook manner.
     Butoh is a whole new dance that was born from a movement 
called "Ankoku-butoh Movement" started by Tatsumi Hijikata 
(1928-86 ), Kazuo Ohno (1906- ), Akira Kasai (1943- ), etc., in the 
late 1950s.
     Its first start was in response to global climate at that time.  
It came out from "avant garde art" that flowed world wide 
including "Fluxus" of New York.  Therefore, it should have been 
an "anti-dance" attitude towards dance.  That is to deny things 
called dance, although there were ballet or modern dance from 
prewar days in Japan.  Even to deny the idea " to dance" which is 
the general idea in dance.
     In the early years of Ankoku-butoh, it was different from what 
people think it is today.  It was mostly a "happening" or "event" 
kind of thing which was rather closer to Judson Church school.  
After the season of "denying" and "destroying", there were always 
"now, what next" stage.  Tatsumi Hijikata, who was the central 
figure then, once again paid attention to the fact the dance of 
postwar period was related to the bodies of Europeans or 
Westerners in America, and thought that a new dance in Japan 
should make its start from the physical characteristic of 
Japanese bodies.
     But one just cannot fall back to the dance before modern times 
such as Kabuki or Noh, especially for dancer living in the midst of 
modern times.   What Hijikata then did was to look at the bodies 
with ethnic, folk customs of North Eastern Japan where he came from.  
He pays close attention to the so called "Japanese bodies" and 
"Japanese expression" are not considered as dance at all.  Furthermore 
they are seen as something very far from the typical Japanese 
"wabi - sabi " the snobbish aesthetics.  To put it more precisely, he 
the curved backs or hips from farming, bandy legs and clumsy hands of 
the old people.  Also he recalls seeing as a child the whites of the 
turned up eyes of Goze a blind female street singer as well as a 
prostitute, or the body of Itako ( a blind shaman of Osore-zan, the 
spiritual mountain in Aomori),  a bad carriage or shrunken limbs 
caused by cold weather.  These bodies that were deformed by different 
conditions and through  long periods of time became the standard 
where the idea of dance began. 
     In brief, he wnated to present dance as total denial of modern, of  
Western, and of Japanese beauty.  Tatsumi Hijikata's style of 
Ankoku-butoh as considered today was developed from here.
     (* Akira Kasai searches in a different direction.  He also thinks 
about "anti-modern", but in his case, being under the influence of 
Tatsuhiko Shibusawa first, seeked for the possibility of occult and 
mysticism in Europe.  He even discovers Oriental thought  and body 
that are originally in the vision of occult or mysticism.  In other words, 
it is the body as receptacle of "possession" in shamanism.  He thought 
that a possibility of body expression was there.
     However, now, the issue of the modern age arise.  For a dancer living 
in the midst of modern times, it is impossible to achieve a simple 
monistic fusion of body and mind.  That is to say, you cannot be like 
people living in Bali or people who adhere to a religion who trip without 
having any difficulty.   After much distressed, Kasai finally comes 
across Anthoroposophie  by Rudolf Steiner.  Steiner was the person who 
inquired into how one can quite logically understand something spiritual.  
It was a big thing for Butoh dancers to find that there was a method of 
physical expression called "eurtythmie" in Anthoroposophie.  And finally 
at the end of the1970s, he went to study "eurtythmie" at a school in 
Stuttgart, Germany.)       
     Of course, the fore mentioned awareness is not only seen in Japan but 
also in Europe around the same time.  Such as Nietzsche and the occult 
idea at the end of the 19th century, rediscovery of Antonin Artaud in the 
1920s and Jerzy Grotouski in the 1960s, modern power criticism of 
Michel Foucault, Nomadology of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Gatali, 
the structural anthropology of Levi-Strauss, Georges Bataille, etc.  
The most popular is the "New Science" way of thinking.  Butoh dancers 
read these in books as well.
     Therefore, when Butoh is evaluated, we are able to reach out and bring 
together many intelectual ideas.  By bringing these ideas together, 
sometimes we are able to understand it easily.  But in fact, many of Butoh 
that we have seen do not belong to any categories.  Since the tendency is 
to categorize, by pedantic explanation you will never know the quality of 
the individual dance.

1. "Become" a "Body" from "Motion"

Let us examine Butoh from the relationship with the main stream dance in Europe and the US. What is the difference in objective when Butoh is compared to the so called "dance" which manifests "modern" and "Western" that they/three deny. According to ethnology, I can say that "to become something" is desired in the expression of non-Western=non-modern Butoh as in other Oriental ethnic dances. That is metamorphosis as in "possession" or change in appearance as in "disembodiment". But different from folk dance, never being able to escape from the "subject" (self-consciousness, ego) particularly becomes a problem in Butoh. Although one's own body is the only material, tool and object that can be used, the very body happens to be the "obstacle" against the "subject". Then, think deeply about "to become", it does not really mean "to express something". It is different from "representation". In fact, it's not expressing something by making the body a symbol of something like in European or American dance. For example, please recall Sartre's "Imagenaire (1940 )" The "dance" in Europe or America is the "image" that came up by making the body and action unreal (neantilization naughtilization ; make it empty). There is something that has appeared as an "image" by exercising imagination. It will be called "dance". Now, what about Butoh. Certainly, there is a body that has a realistic objective or action and another body which appears without having any meaning. However, is that really "image"? I think it is rather something more materialistic. Definitely, the "Image" in "dance" is the "move" not "body", that is "a locus of move" recaptureing of time spatially. In this case, one sees the "line" drawn by "move" as a dance. On the other hand, Butoh is the "body". That is for example, if Isadra Duncan dances "leaves of trees", he will capture it as "move" of leaves blown away by the wind. But Butoh dancers aim to an extreme is becoming the "leaf " itself. Therefore, in Butoh even to express spiritual or invisible thing, it has to show by the "presence" of body, not by the action or motion. This for instance, as Mallarme dreamed, in order to make materiality of language vacant to gain the image ofsignifiant is quite contrary. According to Sartre, it is possible to think of as the same kind thing of "to become" of the Japanese body as the same as the appearance of image in acting of actors. But even in such a case, it is not "dance" in Europe. In Europe, it is a "theater" expression. Well, it may clarify the "undifferentation of dance and theater" in the non-Western way of thinking. Even if one follows Sartre's, "everything is graspable through image", it is still slightly different from the Japanese bodies. In contrast to the jumping and leaping Western dance, non-Western, in particular, the Japanese Noh, the whole of the body relatively does not move. Is not the relative difference of the quantity of motion or the sphere of motion an absolute difference in quality? In short, is not it a disparity of "move" and "body"? The reason is when thinking of "to become", if move is emphasized more than the body, that has "become", moving here and there, will not be fixed in the mind of the audience. In this case, materility of body is gained by not moving. Intensity of the materiality of body will be the indicator of "being" or "not being". Now, keep in mind the transfer from the concept of "move" to the concept of "body" in Butoh, and as its opportunity "to become". Let us look at some artists individually.

2. Bejart Shows Limit of White Shamanism

There is a person named Maurice Bejart (1927- ), who seems to be the only European dance artist having the way of thinking that is close to the kind mentioned above. He is originally from the Marseilles opera ballet. That is to say he is an orthodox of European dance. Due to this fact probably, his disillusion or hatred for Western "logocentered" is intense, and he sides with Nietzsche, from the early years, then with Greek pantheistic view of the world and later with Hellenism culture, and "Eastern ideas" like Persia or Japan. Eventually, he adheres to Sufism, a sect of mystical Muslim of Iran. In any case, captivated by the non-Western thought, he has created much work by capturing various folk dances. He thinks of his work to be an integration of dualistic confrontation among all sorts of world views, or to be a pantheistic integration. Therefore, he gathers and integrates various dances within ballet where he grew up. But in fact, there is no denying that his work is a senseless mimicry of Indian dance, Kabuki, and all folk dances. The way he deals with Kabuki seems to be an irresponsible remark to us Japanese, and it is obvious that he only gets its surface. He might really think that Siva would come down if he imitated the Indian dance. Bejart's attitude toward ballet might be very ambivalent, but the same can be said of his understanding of Indian dance, because of his lack in deep essential understanding. He maynot be thinking of the essence of any dance. Apart from his talent he is a serious person. His longing for pantheistic world is earnest. Thereupon he successes sometimes. Let us examine few of these rare successes. The work named "Heliogabalus (1976 )" for instance. Consider this piece as "to become", is it not a hermaphroditic union planned by a duet of man and woman? Or as in "Illumination (1979 )" the duet of twin guys may be an agmogenetic union / disunion. In these kind of works it is thought that the Siamese twins and or Hermaphrodite are realized by uniting bodies of two human beings create one form or like a mirror image making similar figures. This is made possible by his use of the dancers' bodies or rather the "flesh" that emanate eros. Moreover, the privileged flesh with sex appeal that emanate eros seems to hold more importance. This means it cannot be just anybody who dance. If so, then the movement, not the flow of the movement, is made from a kind of a "collection of poses". It is no seen as a good choreography. We, too, do not seem to look at it as beauty of movement. As to "to become", these works are barely realized since Hermaphrodite, an "imaginary being", does not really exist. In other words, due to our imagination,@we are able to experience the pleasant sensation of being able to see things never seen before our own eyes. Now, speaking of Bejart, there is a famous piece "Bolero (1960 )". I think it is his masterpiece as well. The solo charactor dancing in "Bolero" is called Melody. Being inspirited by Ravel's music and in response to this, Bejart's objective was to try to make the emergence of the body "to become" the "music itself". He wanted the body to be able to become music, rythm, melody, energy, sensuality..... Let us think about why "Bolero" was successful. Like many other unsuccessful pieces, for the "specific thing" to become something, mimic expression is necessary but it was not so for "Bolero". There must be movement instead. As shown by the character and the structure of Ravel's music "Bolero", single mindedly step on firmly and steadily. By doing so repeatedly it will be amplified so that it nears ecstasy. As made eveident by many ethnologic opinion, the move of "stepping firmly and steadily" is an expression of acquiring something spiritual or energy from the earth. From the audience side, once they get it on with the conformity relationship between Ravel's music and the movement of the dancer, they will gradually be able to see the music make a transition into the body of the dancer. In short, the transition of hearing sense will bring about the metamorphosis of the body. Even then, I think that the body that is able "to become" or the body that can be seen in that way is seen as if it is gifted. An example of this is the privileged flesh suitable for shaman. For Bejart it supposedly was a dancer named Jorge Donn, of course, will differ in the eyes of the beholder. Bejart's privileged positioning of bodies is that of the Greco-Roman (there is a little tendency of being Hellenistic) strictly limited to the beauty of the European body. Indeed, it is certain that it is a historic turnabout of dance. Adding a few more words, there was the presence of Nijinsky before that. Naturally, there are many folk dances or religious dances that are based on the principle of ecstasy. Relative to Bejart, there is a spinning dance called "dervish dance" that monks of Sufi dance. In dervish dances, embodiment occurs by extraordinary continuance of spinning, which then enables one to communicate with that stars in heaven. Thinking this over, it is convincing, but in fact, such communication is possible only for the dancer (participant). It was not meant for the sake of exhibition. At best, perhaps it is just for the people within the group who adhere to the religion; it is not possible for the audience to trip together with the dancers. There is also a "shaman dance" in Japan as well. It is not know of the ancient times but perhaps in the refined form of today, a god possessed cannnot be seen. In general, dancing quietly like that does not bring the feeling of god descending. Many folk dances and religious dances today have such a gap; historical, timegap, and the gap between the dancing and the looking at the dance. But for instance, when you see a Korean shaman dance called "MU-DAN" or the dances derived from it for entertainment, you can feel something very strong. I feel there is a good deal of prototype left. However, while there are very few of such things left today, we Japanese, who are so Westernized in the present day, should recognized that the dance by Bejart, which makes us feel "to become" in shamanism, in a remarkably understandable form, is imporatnat in its own right. You can cinsider it to be Westerners' limit in the matter of "to become". Now, I would like to move on to the main subject, Butoh. Simple diagram like Bejart will not be satisfactory. Therefore I would like to think together with all of you. to next page

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