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.” *
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.*
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.
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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