The path of patience (Small changes during Yoshito Ohno’s Butoh workshop)

I didn’t come to Japan to take Butoh intensive workshops, but to experience the common ground of studying and practicing Butoh with the masters at their places in their common routines. I’m committed to accept the way they teach and share their experiences, and then I’ll go back to my own work, and no more. 

Until now Yoshito Ohno’s workshop has been one of those places where I experienced more inner fights with my Western idea of how a workshop should be and how a teacher should teach. First, going twice a week to Kamihoshikawa from where I’m staying in Tokyo is exhausting; I make two hour travel to go and two going back from door to door. Exhausting probably is also the word to describe the unique style of Yoshito Ohno’s Butoh workshop these days: every time he repeats almost the same propositions to improvise, every time with the same words and choose of music, or at least you feel that way till the moment you start to spot the differences, and when some new proposition comes it is like breathing an air of freshness and novelty.

It wasn’t always that way. I remember my first two times coming to study Butoh with him, he had a quite a varied list of propositions to improvise and he used to be a very long time speecher, but these days he only uses a little group of propositions with minimum speech. 

This is the main structure (all accompanied by music, always the same song for every proposition):

-standing still, we are a work of art;

-meeting the space, the place where Kazuo Ohno created his dances;

-looking for a long range space, dancing in contact with places long afar.

-creating a silent night for the children of the war;

-feeling the blessing and suffering of the Virgin Mary;

-the Japanese characters for body and the body like bamboo;

-four Japanese characters for emotions;

-holding hands together the whole group with Moonlight Sonata and then dancing individually.

This has been almost the same structure since I came in mid January, but some changes happened: 

-he could insist in keeping the same proposition for two or three songs;

-regularly on Tuesday nights a colleague musician plays the guitar and sings while we dance;

-sometimes Yoshito feels the need to dance with us and he does do it;

-and also sometimes, like today, he proposes other improvisations: feeling the tissue and with it the space between our hands; being a flower holding a rose; or using a piece of silk like if the silk texture was our body. 

Today, for instance, he shared more about the impact Kazuo Ohno had in Antony, from Antony and the Johnsons, and we danced with the piece of silk during three songs from the album the musician dedicated to Ohno. And we finished dancing with the tissue. Those were remarkable changes indeed!

After the workshop -he always stays seated near where the CDs are- I approached him and told him I wanted to see what more music he had there, I was curious of course; then I saw an album of Edith Piaf and I expressed my excitement about watching that album there. He asked me to give him the CD, what I did, and asked his assistant to put the music on. After two minutes he was already at the center of the studio wearing a lady’s hat and danced La Vie en Rose. Moving around slowly and sometimes losing his balance Yoshito performed mostly with his left hand and his head, with his eyes. Our old master was inspired today.

Finally, during the tea time, I showed everyone some photos of a lovely Sakura in blossom I stumbled upon at Ueno park, and Yoshito told (in Japanese) to Michiyuki Kato, a dear colleague whos fidelity to the workshop is absolute since many years ago, that at the house garden there was a tree in blossom and he could take me to watch it. It was an Ume tree, a Plum, blossoming ahead of season to and in front of what used to be the last Kazuo Ohno’s bedroom. 

What I’m trying to share, personal experience aside, is that there is some sensitivity that comes when we are open to feel it. Accepting what the workshop is these days, be because Yoshito’s old age or illness, be because it is what it is now, those small changes make a great difference between sessions. It is a training, of course, my training. You know, after some years of working at any field, that not every day can be a new day, but repetition with some changes, with some details, will be the common daily experience. The eyes and ears of our body must be open to those small changes. It is a question of some quotidian deep personal introspection and care. 

That’s when we are rewarded by those simple but remarkable details, not by big new worlds, but by small pieces of land coming from the path of patience.

(Sunday February 17th, 2019)

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