Journal of my Butoh training week
(Last week of August)
“Naturally, the older I grow, the more experienced I become. My body can’t stay still. There’s no point denying that as we grow older, our bodies gradually wither away. Yet, irrespective of our physical state, life is ever present. That’s why I believe it essential that dance reflects the reality of ageing. All and well for younger performers to dwell upon the physical aspects of dance, but for older performers the spiritual aspect dominates. With a minimum of physical exertion, we can sustain ourselves until the very end. At a younger age we don’t need to concern ourselves with that reality, but we should be mindful of it. The essential thing is that dance embody the cry of the newborn, this comes about with repeated training and discipline. A mother’s love for her child manifests itself without the slightest thought. Younger dancers need to realise that. By concentrating only on the technical aspects, their dance will not engage us. Dance has to confront us with the question: Why are we here? If we stifle our feelings, we won’t get through to the audience. Crying plays a cathartic role. We should cry until we’ve shed all our tears so as to spiritually renew ourselves. I wonder the secret of health lies in our capacity to live life to the full. As I grow older, my dance evolves in a way that reflects this reality. My physical force is on the wane, my flesh slowly withers. I’m now experiencing things that I never did previously, with each and every step I’m learning something new and experience aspects of life that I didn’t in my younger years. It’s quite a revelation. In my youth, I had youthful passions, and so too in my later years. I’m not saying that one of them is better. They are essentially different. One has to embrace them accordingly, when young, one dances in a spring like way, as I reach the closing years of my life, my dance should convey the reality of my years, the older I get, the more my dance needs to embody the cry of the newborn. An elderly performer whose work doesn’t reflect this reality should give up.” (1)
So powerful words based in a more powerful and deep experiences! What can I do with this as a practical approach in my work?
Of course, at the beginning, the idea of embracing ageing was closer to me and I was aware of it during this week’s trainings, putting all my attention in my physical effort, in my physical pain, in my physical limits because of my age; but as the passing of the days I started to bring other texts and ideas while re-reading Kazuo’s words: “the cry of the new born” was then acquiring major importance, probably because it was action more than words, a closer physical image to any other of that speech.
In the video “Beauty and Strength: Kazuo Ohno” produced by the NHK, Kazuo Ohno decided to start with a peculiar scene: at his studio during one of his daily workshops he’s giving a speech on how dance should be like the cry of a baby that communicates in a primeval form with his mother. For that purpose he asked to bring one of his grandsons to the studio and let him play freely with Yoshito and him in a total improvised dance. The image is clarifying and powerful because we can see how the child is free in his behaviour with the two adults who are dancing but playing with him at the same time. It is a mix of improvised lively chaos and strong artistic structure. The scene itself could not be memorable, speaking in an artistic sense, if we don’t ask ourselves why Kazuo decided to start a video, produced by the NHK on his successful career, exactly with that improvisation, (even risking his position as a remarkable performer) if not because that was a concrete illustration of what Butoh and dance was to him, a real introduction fo all his work. There was no cry, but the point was clear to me.
I remember then that experience Eugenio Barba depicts in one of his texts about a horse brought to the stage in an almost forgettable play he was watching when he was a child, and how that incursion gave it an idea of total life in the middle of a dead stage full of actors. We all know that same feeling when a child is on the stage and steals all the professional work of the actors just because he/she is more alive, because he/she is not trying to do anything, he/she is there.
When I was at Kazuo Ohno Studio in Kamihoshikawa, Yoshito Ohno let me watch some family videos about Kazuo’s performances. One specially brought my attention: it was a performance Kazuo gave at a seniors care house. After one or two musical pieces dancing, wearing those characteristic old women dresses, I saw a moment of brightness (if I can say that), a moment that changed all my perception of what I was watching in that moment. Difficult to explain, the only thing is I can say is that it was if like a door was open at that moment and some energy or light come out from Kazuo’s body, moment that lasted for no more than two minutes I remember. Was that “the cry of the new born”? Now I believe it was, and also Barba’s horse and the child playing.
That moment is not a technique itself but an advice, it’s actually a research, a continuous research in our practice of Butoh. Like that moment of truth Peter Brook talks about when rehearsing (See his video “The rope”). The director and the actors should work and rehearse not because they have to repeat everything, but because they are waiting for the moment when life becomes action, when it comes out from the source, and everything we do on stage should be in a state of awareness to catch that moment.
My training then became, this week, a structure of physical movements, exercises, rehearsals of my inner choreographies, my art crafting, while waiting for that moment. My work only counts if I am aware of the real research, if I am aware of the moment I can be in communication with the cry of the newborn and be like a light, with the moment a horse enters to the scene stealing all the attention with his body full of life.