El camino de los maestros muertos (el camino que me llevó al encuentro con el Butoh)

A principios de este 2018 apenas estaba por establecerme en Guangzhou, mi nueva ciudad, cuando Haydé Lachino me invitó a escribir un artículo para la revista que ella dirige en México, Interdanza, revista que se ha convertido en poco tiempo bajo la dirección de Haydé, en un referente de la danza en México, entre muchas razones por su profesionalismo y conocimiento y porque es un proyecto que financiado por el gobierno es totalmente gratuito y electrónico, es decir prácticamente al alcance de todos aquellos interesados en la danza.

La propuesta del artículo era sobre mi encuentro con el Butoh, y no podía caerme más a la mano, porque estoy en el proceso de crear mi primer texto teórico (personal) sobre la creación dentro del Butoh, así que una introducción como esta me fue de primordial importancia para definir las razones de mi interés y mi práctica dentro de esta disciplina que ahora ocupa la mayor parte de mi vida creativa.

Por supuesto que el artículo se lee en la revista misma publicada en el número 54 del mes de agosto de este año, a través de este link: El camino de los maestros muertos (Interdanza) pero quería, como siempre, hacerlo patente en mi blog como una exposición del documento mismo.


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Be a doctor


Kazuo Ohno: “On coming off stage I feel much better than before I go on. Before I complain of a backache, or a sore neck, but these all seem to disappear once I step out on stage, it’s like a panacea for all my pains and woes because body and soul move unite and move as one, this bring joy and comfort to the audience and moves them in a meaningful way. In this sense, dance act as a doctor for both performer and spectator. It’s like a cure-all for our ailments. It fully revitalizes me.”


Jerzy Grotowski said that one of the origins of our profession is the “shaman”, that magician-doctor that performs in front of the sick with the goal of healing the body and soul. 

It is also a common idea among our profession (performing arts) this healing process during acting or dancing or singing, and it is possible that the cerebral state we reach during our performing involves the liberation of substances related to different processes of self-healing, or at least some kind of sedatives like the body liberates during rituals or trances.

It is interesting that Kazuo Ohno felt the same way just because dancing with the idea of doing it with body and soul united. What it is perhaps more interesting for me is that he says that the result of this union of dancing with body and soul together “brings joy and comfort to the audience and moves them in a meaningful way”. It is where the performer and the doctor-magician mixed together. Here, we find a technique of “projection” on stage in Kazuo’s Butoh, to reach the spectator without thinking on it, -just as the movement coming from the inner impulse-. If we work/dance with our body and soul united then the result will inevitably be healing and touching, to our selves and to the spectators. What else do we want? 



Keeping it simple I’ve only worked with the idea of unite body and soul: listening always music in a random way I started from breathing imagining being impulsed to movement, then to walking, then reaching different levels between the sky and the earth. Probably didn’t think more about body and soul, but the initial idea was working in every moment. After some time entered very in contact with my inner lines of movement forgetting probably the breathing part, because now images were taking part of as basic elements of the impulse. Images were sprouting inside and outside the body, following the music, the rhythm of images following the rhythm of the music, until realizing I was doing some kind of free improvisation.

I didn’t have spectators and I didn’t have any ache before starting my training, so I couldn’t say that Kazuo’s technique worked, but I know I felt good, satisfied, and in some way better. I’ll have to wait till that moment I expose myself on stage to the public again, and probably, during my Butoh, I’ll become not only the healer but the healed too. Then Nietzsche, the great, will be brought to live and say: here you are, the poet and the reader united has reborn again.



“Pride Chinese Style” Telling the story of the start of my first Photo/Butoh Project in China.

Why “Pride Chinese Style”

When I arrived to Guangzhou at the beginning of this year 2018 I was introduced almost immediately to the LGTBQ world of the region thanks to a reception the General Consul of Belgium in Guangzhou, Joris Selden, and his husband Fabio Melchiorri, gave to celebrate the beginning of a new year. At that reception I had the opportunity to meet – among many others – two very interesting Chinese personalities: Wing and Ryan, in their English names. Their stories opened to me the world of some LGTBQ organizations in the city, working with all the joy and complications that living openly as a gay person means within a culture that slowly and little by little is opening its doors to minorities.

Ryan is one of the people in charge of Zhitong, an organization that helps and gives advise mostly to members of the gay community. Wing is an energetic person who organizes a monthly LGTBQ session called Tango Queer at the Tango academy, where he learns and practices.

In China it is prohibited to make a public display of LGTBQ pride (parade, rights demonstration, gatherings without police permission). Any celebration must be in private, as it is the Tango session, or very close monitored by the government, as it is with Zhitong.

The two groups, each in its own way, offer to me a Chinese-style vision of the melting pot of colors that is the LGTBQ rainbow. They’re proud Chinese, proud of their orientation and their personal choices. They are fighters expressing their Pride in their unique ways.

I decided to start my first photo-performance project in Guangzhou with them, about them, and about the people they gather and work with, watching and analyzing their way of being LGTBQ, but from my own perspective, that of a Photo and Butoh performer man married to another man in a society like Mexico’s and who, after many years of legal and social rejection, has opened almost completely to the different possibilities of gender.

About the project

This project, which will continue to grow and develop during the three years I plan to live in Guangzhou, includes documentary photography, digital interventions and Butoh performances inspired by the daily work and life of these two groups, as well as others that may offer me access to their unique worlds and spaces. 

In this starting first phase, which I’ve called “Document”, I’m working with portraits and images that, by themselves and without further embellishment, tell us the stories of the protagonists of these two groups, Zhitong and Tango Queer, with a focus on their places, their bodies and their movements, in their simple and daily tasks and activities. There is no digital intervention yet, but a small bite of Butoh through some improvisations with Wing and Juan from the Tango Queer group.

My idea for the Butoh work in this project is what some people call “intervention”, going directly to the real places my subjects are working and do some improvisations while they are doing their daily tasks, and probably, if that works, doing a whole performance mixing my surreal Butoh performance with the real time of their normal life. Of course, working with Tango Queer was easier, as they are performers too, but more difficult with Zhitong whom members are not close to any artistic attitude. It is a risky adventure, and I’ll see how this goes.


The first show

What it was a great surprise was that the Mexican Consulate in Guangzhou gave me the opportunity to show the results of the fist phase of the project taking part of the LGTBQ month celebrations in the city. They were organizing, with many other consulates and organizations in the city, a film festival around the LGTBQ subject, so they thought it was a good moment to show my work and it really was. We prepared a photo exhibition and a Tango and Butoh improvisation for the opening. A kind of success because they asked for another show one week later.

Even I’ve built a website around the project ( Pride Chinese Style ) I’d like to share the same information and images here in my Butoh Blog, specially to keep track of it as part of my Butoh world.




Phase 1, Document, “Zhitong”

(Photographs for exhibition)


Phase 1, Document, “Tango Queer”

(Photographs for exhibtion)


Phase 1, Documents/ Butoh.

(Butoh performance preparation) *(1)



Finally some images of the two presentations we had at the gallery of the Mexican Consulate on June 21st and June 26th.  You’ll notice that the name of this exhibition was “Rainbow in Chinese Style”; the consulate asked to avoid the word “Pride” because could cause problems with Chinese authorities; I thought this was not an issue that affected the body of the project. *(2)



*(1) All photographs in this section was taken by Zangtai Taizo and processed by Gustavo Thomas.

*(2) Photographs taken by the public, by people from the Mexican Consulate and stills I extracted from a video.

Under The Bridge (Butoh/Video)

After some weeks with enormous work around our first Photoperformance exhibition in China I gave me some time to process one of the videos recorded during my Butoh improvisation under Dadao bridge in Ersha Island.

As I usually do when processing the videos of my improvs, the music you listen to was added after. It always surprises me how it can fit with the movement, giving to the performance a new, even twisted atmosphere, from the original.

If you watch this on a mobile phone screen probably the quality of some details, hands and facial gestures for example, will be lost, so I advice watching the video on a bigger screen.

Under The Bridge from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.

If you are in China and don’t use VPN you can watch the video on Youku: Under The Bridge



In two weeks I’ll be performing my Butoh along with two Chinese Tango dancers during the opening of my first photoperformance exhibition in China. I’ll hope to record some material and show it to you here later.

The Languid Fall (Short Extract From Languid Bodies)

Now that I’m looking for a place to perform again my Butoh and Video work ‘Languid Bodies’ in China, I recovered a video from one specific performance show in Morelia, Michoacán, México, recorded in 2016.

Even though my Butoh performances are mostly improvised (but with a defined structure), I thought a short part of this video could work as a taste for the live performance.

This short ‘The languid fall’ is part of the third (of seven) section named Violence.

The Languid Fall (Languid Bodies) from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.

If you are in China you can see the video on Youku:



Butoh Improvisation Under Guangzhou Dadao Bridge in Ersha Island

After three months trying to adapt myself to the Chinese city of Guangzhou, looking for a place for training and creation, I could find two or three sites around the city to perform my  improvisations.

This first one I’m talking about now was very close to my new home, in Ersha Island, under a highway bridge with exceptional perspective and bizarre good lighting, almost as if was thought to be used as a performance venue. You know me, I couldn’t resist doing something there.

I chose one Saturday evening. The heat was -at 6 pm- just bearable and I only had to fight with some mosquitoes, but my main concern actually was not the weather conditions but the police. China has a policy that prohibits any kind of public manifestation without permission from the police, permission that could never come, because of the bureaucracy or just because someone doesn’t want to have any problem asking for it to his superiors. Anyway, it was a question of luck: if the police didn’t show and the street surveillance cameras were not recording anything I could get along without any problem; but, if the police arrived then it would depend of the criteria of the guard, he would let me go with my performance or ask me to leave or even he would arrest me.

As my Butoh improvisation is not a performance organized to be public (it is just done at a public area), and I assume it is not political, my bet was, with not much risk, that I would get along with it without any altercation.

The police did arrive in the middle of my performance, but for some reason the guard just looked at me while passing by and he didn’t stop nor did anything, and walked away. So, I was lucky, the first test passed without a problem.

People passed by and stood for a little time and then went away too, some took photographs, and even a lady stopped by and started to give some advice about where to do the performance with better light while taking some photographs with her phone. What I loved was to see how some riding bicycles got attracted by what I was doing and changed their way to see better. I was all alive and fresh, exactly what I look in my Butoh improvs around the world.

I didn’t use any make up ( I didn’t want to attract much attention) or wore a thong, but I did wore some of my traditional black dresses, a net, and a Japanese mask. I put not very loud music and I stayed performing almost in the same area without doing much fuss around. I really loved the results, at least in photographic images.

We’ll see if I keep that impression after I process the video.

(Thanks, as always, to my personal cameraman Zangtai Taizo for being there once again.)

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In an interview with NHK in 1993 Kazuo Ohno was questioned about his experience in working on producing his first performances:

Kazuo Ohno: “I was challenging to make ends meet. A lot goes into making a performance but back then my approach differed to how I work nowadays. Now, I wouldn’t dream of preparing anything in advance. A performance must be born at the moment. This spontaneous outburst is what really counts. Dance must be deeply connected with one’s own life. By constructing a dance with preordained movements and gestures one can easily replicate them. But that’s not what I’m after.” *

There is a complex chapter in the study of Kazuo Ohno’s work about his own way of create and perform with many researchers using commonly the word “improvisation” in a very vague way. Saying that Kazuo Ohno didn’t prepare anything in advance has been rebuked by many, but not the least the idea of “what it counts is this spontaneous outburst” or that “Dance must be deeply connected with one’s own life”.

To clarify this subject I’d like to recall an essay by Mariko Miyagawa about Kazuo Ohno’s Butoh-fo (notations of Butoh):

“Ohno did not improvise perfectly; he created the frame of his dance by writing words and elaborating his images to keep his memory more vividly and to recreate it. I would like to give a name, “the choreography which has undetermined elements,” to this method of Ohno’s.” *

Kazuo Ohno’s work notes for a first performance of Admiring La Argentina (© Ohno Dance Studio Archives)


So, Kazuo Ohno actually worked in advance but not in the way one could expect, not in a preordained choreography, with movements steps by steps, but with points of reference for his own inner movement, like if they were sea buoys marking the frontiers in the water of his creativity. 

On the other hand Takao Kawaguchi, in his study of the videos recorded of Kazuo Ohno’s performances to perform himself like Kazuo Ohno, gives us another perspective. Kawaguchi assures that in different performances of the same production Ohno worked almost exactly the same movements at the same timing and rhythm, like if he was aware of a preconceived choreography even if he didn’t worked it in that sense. That’s what helped Kawaguchi to follow a pattern of movements to imitate the work of the master in his 2017 Butoh production.*

Takao Kawaguchi imitating Kazuo Ohno


Finally I want to mention a memory from 2014:  I recall that Ko Murobushi explained, in a very sarcastic way and imitating Ohno’s movements, that all the physical work of Kazuo Ohno could just be resumed in a spiral directed to the sky.* For Ko Murobushi Ohno was only repeating the same physical structure of movement in every one of his performances.


Kazuo Ohno an its spiral to the sky.


So, probably the creation in our Butoh is not “improvisation” per-se (“perfect improvisation” as Mariko Miyagawa called it), but the “outburst of the moment”, the impulse who carries on the movement which could be always new during every performance, even with repeated movements from a choreography or fixed through all previous performances.

Probably it is mostly improvisation during the time of creation, during the process and rehearsals, resulting in a choreography or points of reference to not get lost during the performance to a public, and then, at the moment, be aware of the improvised moment of creativity that was the source of everything and look for the outburst of that instant connecting our dance with our own life.


*1-(Extracted from the video-interview “Kazuo Ohno in conversation at 86”. April, 1993.)

*2-(Mariko Miyagawa “Kazuo Ohno’s Dance and His Methodology: From Analyzing His Butoh-fu “)

*3-In this case it let us the question if Kawaguchi really got the impulse to master those movements or only repeated the physical action without the “outburst of the moment”.

*4-Personal memories from Ko Murobushi’s Butoh workshop at LEIMAY, New York, 2014.


(These texts -and experiences- are part of my daily Butoh training, trying to make some sense of something which probably has absolutely no sense.)


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