When the master dances with you…

 

Coming from Tokyo to Kamihoshikawa in a weekday is stressing, especially when you don’t know the way trains work in Japan. I spend almost two hours to get to the studio and it is super tiring, mainly because I get anxious about missing my train in one of the three transfers I have to do. This time, luckily, I was there on time.

Yoshito looked less tired and with more energy than last Sunday, and he was ready to demonstrate that to all of us.

The workshop developed almost in the same way than last Sunday with some variations in the order of improvisations: standing still, recognizing the space, looking afar and close like an insect, exploring the five Japanese characters for emotions, dancing without waking up the sleeping baby and living the life and suffering of the Virgin Mary. Today though, he added the exercise with the tissue: feeling the tissue between our hands, exploring the space it provokes between them and dancing with the feeling of its texture. Usually it is a piece of music what we improvise, but this time after the first song ended he asked us to keep dancing for another song and another more, then something more interesting happened: while we were dancing, a colleague student left the group, took a guitar and started to play and sing in Japanese, a very powerful singing and lovely music; we just kept dancing of course. In the middle of the song Yoshito started to dance with us.

It is a very special feeling when your old Butoh teacher dances with you. You don’t stop dancing but you’re totally aware of what he is doing, you give space for his dancing, enjoy his movements close to you, and also, more important, you uses this energy he has in that moment and dance with him. 

In one moment I recalled watching him dancing with his father. His dance was powerful but totally aware that the main dancer there was Kazuo and not him. He was almost still but dancing, because he knew in that moment his place on stage. For me watching him dancing with his father is always a lesson of humility in our profession. I believe I was experiencing something similar tonight; I was learning in practice with him and from him.

(There is a video of the experience. If I can get it I’ll added to the post)

We finished the workshop again improvising another dance in group holding hands with the idea of the full moon with The Moon Sonata by Beethoven as a background. 

During the tea time after the workshop I bought one of his books, one about him: Portrait of Ōno Yoshito by Yomota Inuhiko, and he signed to me. He made the effort of signing with his left hand because the right one is in recovery of an injury. Keiko his daughter told me that the money of the sales of that book is actually a donation for the archive they’re managing now at the studio. 

Going back home I spent more than two hours on the trains because of the evening time (the workshop and tea moment ended at 10 PM). I was home after midnight, super tired but smiling and satisfied, with my new book in my hands and the feeling in my body that today I danced with the old Master.

(Tuesday January 29th, 2019)

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Sensei, the Master

(Yoshito Ohno’s Butoh workshop)

Today we danced during one hour and a half. 

Yoshito Ohno sensei gives some words as introduction, concepts and anecdotes around the history of Butoh, all as inspiration, as impulse, some accompanied by illustrations too (photos, paintings, Japanese characters,…). Then, with one or two pieces of music, we dance freely. 

Probably Yoshito Ohno’s Butoh workshop is the most singular you can find in Japan. Many could be lost there, many like me could just feel enormous joy. 

The work is physical but it is not based in physical exercises. It is philosophical, based in personal experiences and complete freedom. 

You stand still during a whole piece of music, look like an insect while walking with an eye in your back; you are also the full moon with all the group, reach the farest lands with your movement, and walk on the same path that Kazuo Ohno did; you suffer like the Virgin Mary and transform your body in the body of a naturally strong bamboo. 

There is no judgment, no pressure, like if art wasn’t there, but it is, for sure, all the time. 

¿Quality? He talks about quality in reference only to Tatsumi Hijikata or to Kazuo Ohno, not about our work.

Freedom and its philosophy open doors and windows inside each one of us during those improvised dances and almost everyone cry once. 

After four years without being there, I found an older man, an older teacher, with some problems to walk and speak, but doing what he has to do, guiding us through the wisdom he got with Butoh.

Kazuo Ohno, the divine, is still there at the studio, but that place today, I felt, it has already become Yoshito’s own place. It is the studio of Yoshito Ohno sensei, the master.

(Sunday, February 27th, 2019)

Unconscious body

(Natsu Nakajima’s Butoh Workshop)

My second session of Butoh was at Natsu Nakajima’s Workshop in Yotsuya near Shinjuku.

She is now a legend of Butoh of course, and she’s still very active in her seventies doing work with handicapped people, body therapies and of course Butoh.

I met Natsu only once in my last visit to Japan, but I remember very well her work and I really wanted to take more lessons with her, and of course I was not disappointed at all. 

The workshop takes place at a subterranean gallery inside a large community centre. She didn’t remember me, but she was aware of my visit thanks to Lola Lince who sent her a message telling her about me. They both should be very close because Natsu really took care of me during the workshop and appreciate that. 

The structure of today’s session was very simple: first, therapeutic massage in couples and some breathing exercises; then the Butoh work goes on. 

Natsu talked about the use of the unconscious body, not as a goal in Butoh, but as a medium. So, every time we did an improvisation the goal was letting go the movement, first with breathing, then with music, with voice. 

We also did an exercise coming from modern dance technique (secrets of the work of Kazuo Ohno she said): following the music one dancer lets go the movement but this time taking care of rhythm and tempo and trying to find through improvisation a personal choreography, while other performer follows his/her lead, getting inspiration of that leading movement and trying to imitate the other. Not to think, but following the other.

Finally we were ready to do it in group, using everything we found during the session working with two very different styles of music, but doing with the second music the same movements (improvised choreography) we found in the first. 

Natsu recalled some words by Hijikata, something like “dancing in a group cuts the head”.

Of course I felt liberated, even with the technical difficulty that brought the modern dance technique exercise. 

Natsu Nakajima doing a demostration of one exercise.

You know? There is a strange feeling that this is a very simple work, but thinking about what I did today, it could not happen without all the wisdom and work history of a great guide and teacher like Natsu Nakajima. She actually made it simple, but it wasn’t it at all.

No doubt I’ll make the effort to come every week till the end of my stay in Japan. 

Next workshop? This Sunday with my dear Butoh teacher, Yoshito Ohno. 

(Friday January 26th, 2019)

A tree.

(Butoh workshop with Yuri  Nagaoka and Seisaku)

My first Butoh experience of this season in Japan was at Yuri Nagaoka and Seisaku’s Butoh workshop near Nakano.

The work with them always follows the same structure. First Yuri guides a kind of physical workout that makes the function of a warming up with massages, stretching and lines of movement combining strenght, balance and fluidity; then comes the Butoh work directed by Seisaku: in a series of different exercises (improvisations based in a specific image) we follow a development of transformation through the images of a specific object, today is was a tree. 

Levels worked today:

-roots

-the nurturing from roots to the end of a branch

-the growing of the branches

-the first leaves

-the blossom

-and the tree alive after blossom with its expanded shape full of leaves.

Each level is worked physically from the image of inspiration in a very intricate way linked to our inner body. We are becoming that tree as a result, but not as a goal (at least not from the indications of Seisaku today).

It was surprising to find that Yumiko Yoshioka, the renowned Butoh performer, was there as a student too. I knew about her but never met her before, so I found that she is a very interesting woman and performer, very friendly and charming.

After the work I was more than happy to join them for a dinner at a very good Soba restaurant, and finally I took the subway with Yumiko chatting about Butoh and butohkas along the way. ¿What else could I ask for?

Tomorrow my plan is to take Natsu Nakajima’s workshop.

(Thursday, January 24th, 2019)

The Year I’ve Left Behind…

 

2018 was the year of a new China in my life. I came to live in China again, this time in Guangzhou. Surprisingly I found a very well developed and livable city, until the moment I wanted to create something. Living in an authoritarian society is not easy and I had a taste of it. Even though many things happened, I’m still here. So, I’ve done a short visual retrospective around my creative life in the year I’ve left behind:

 

– In March I did my first Butoh work in Guangzhou at a highway underpass in Ersha Island.

– In June I presented the first phase of my Photo-performance project “Pride Chinese Style” at the gallery of the Mexican Consulate in Guangzhou, with photographs and a performance mixing Tango and Butoh. We also gave a second performance in July.

The website of the whole project: https://gustavothomasteatr.wixsite.com/pridechinesestyle

– In July I started a Photo-performance project with my colleagues of “Humedad Expansiva” in Mexico City aimed for an audiovisual festival in November, doing a live streaming video Butoh performance from China to Mexico. We documented the first streaming transmitted from the South China Botanical Garden in Guangzhou. The project finally didn’t get the support from the Mexican government.

– In August an article I wrote about my encounter with Butoh and my first masters was published in the Mexican magazine Interdanza, thanks to the invitation of Haydé Lachino.

The link to the magazine number: https://archive.org/details/RevistaInterdanza54_201808/page/n13

-In August too I went to Java in Indonesia and performed two Butoh improvisations, one at some rice-field terraces and another one at Sewu, a Buddhist temple inside the Prambanan temple complex.

-In October I had everything ready for a series of performances of my Butoh work “Languid Bodies” at the Watermelon Theatre in Guangzhou, but the day of the first presentation the police arrived and closed the theatre, banning the performance. The reason? That it allegedly was an LGTBQ art work, and therefore not in accordance with China’s values. Even though they were mistaken and there was no LGBTQ content, there was nothing I could do to save the presentations. Luckily for me Chinese photographer Xu Shenghua was at the final rehearsal and documented my presence in Guangzhou through many amazing images.

The website of the work: https://gustavothomasteatr.wixsite.com/languidbodies

The website of the photographs taken by Xu Shenghua: https://gustavothomasbutohblog.wordpress.com/2018/11/30/photographies-shot-by-xu-shenghua-of-my-butoh-work-languid-bodies-in-guangzhou/

– Days later, also in October, I “escaped” to South Korea and performed three Butoh improvisations at marvelous Seoraksan National Park: One at the top of a mountain, one near a simple natural spot, and the third one at the Buddhist temple where I was staying.

– In November I continued my Photo-performance project in Guangzhou, this time with a photo session around the famous Cantonese dress known as Qipao or Cheongsam, posting the results of this exploration in the website of the project.

The webpage with this phase of the project: https://gustavothomasteatr.wixsite.com/pridechinesestyle/qipao

-Finally, in December I travelled to Sichuan Province’s Mount Emei, one Buddhism’s four sacred mountains in China, at which summit I performed a very simple photo Butoh session by some solitary corners of the main temple.

 

2019 looks mysterious to me, with hidden possibilities about what I may do in China with all the censorship around; but luckily, there are many other points of encounter around the world and some windows are bound to open for me.