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.)


#Butoh #theory #arttechnique #KazuoOhno #improvisation #Butohtechnique #TakaoKaguawuchi #KoMurobushi #MarikoMiyagawa #NHK #Interview #Outburst #Creativity #ButohFu  



Kazuo Ohno: “I don’t try to hide my age, it is like if I was watching myself. I saw a book in Dresden that had the image of an old and tired horse; I felt as if my whole life was inside that horse.

In that picture the horse was moving; there was also an old tree and a fruit of life was sprouting from it. The horse ran on the fallen leaves of the tree, they watched him running. Where is that picture? It is within me. This horse runs inside me.” *

Kazuo Ohno Horse Drawing Dresden
The drawing of the Old Horse. Still Photography from a video: Interview to Kazuo Ohno. NHK, 1993.


Kazuo Ohno saw this picture during the 1980s and he kept the image and the impression all the time with him. When Peter Sempel finally realized the documentary “Kazuo Ohno: Dance into the Light”* (he was filming Ohno during more than 10 years, I understand) Kazuo Ohno was ill but still dancing even when his legs couldn’t respond anymore. The images in that documentary show master Ohno from his 80s until almost his death around 100. At the last part of the documentary it shows to us one very old man with a deep inner world, almost in a perpetual state of inspiration or meditation, perhaps even pain. The image of the old horse was within him all the time and, yes, he was still dancing and the horse was still running inside him.

I’ve been training with these images and words for almost two weeks, and I have not had, at anytime, the feeling of being that old horse,-maybe that’s good, maybe not-. On the contrary, what was striking to me was the feeling of strength I was gaining with every day of training passing, as if those sentences were a kind of talisman to gain force. In one moment today, when iI was on the floor dancing without using my legs, like Kazuo in his last years, I thought that I was probably preparing myself for the years to come, for the illness, for the moment I will need the image of the old horse running on the young falling leaves of the tree. I felt motivated, yes, inspired by the old man-horse that master Ohno was.

Sometimes I have to assume my inner magic world, and don’t ask more reasons, and avoid logic. 

I’m grateful that the words of the master are powerful and that power works for me. 




*1-Interview with Kazuo Ohno in “Kazuo Ohno, the last emperor of dance” by Gustavo Collini Sartor. Original in Spanish:

Kazuo Ohno: “No trato de ocultar mi vejez, es como si me estuviese viendo a mi mismo. Yo vi en Dresden un libro que tenía la imagen de un caballo viejo y cansado; sentí como si toda mi vida estuviera dentro de ese caballo.

En aquella imagen el caballo se estaba moviendo; había también un viejo árbol al que le estaba brotando el fruto de la vida. El caballo corría sobre las hojas caídas del árbol, éstas lo observaban correr. ¿Donde se encuentra esa imagen? Está dentro de mí. Este caballo corre por mi interior.” (Entrevista a Kazuo Ohno en “Kazuo Ohno, el último emperador de la danza” de Gustavo Collini Sartor.)

*2-“Kazuo Ohno: Dance into the Light” by Peter Sempel. You can watch the whole documentary in youtube: https://youtu.be/9ZCVFaouZR8


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

#Butoh #theory #arttechnique #KazuoOhno #Butohtechnique #PeterSempel #Life #OldAge