Nantokashite (Mutsumi and Neiro’s Butoh Workshop in Hirai)

Since I met Mutsumi and Neiro at Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio six years ago, in 2013, I’ve been following their professional career through social networks. I saw their first works together, how they independized from Yoshito Ohno, their tours outside Japan, and how they stablished their own studio. I’ve been interested because when we met in 2013 they showed to me a very different approach to Butoh than others colleagues at the studio, a kind of compromise beyond the enjoyment of free dance.

So, when I was planning this current study trip to Japan I wanted to meet them again, watch them performing and visit their studio, and so far I’ve done everything. 

Going to Hirai is relatively easy but far from where I am staying, it is in the other extreme of Tokyo, between a big open river and an industrial zone. They live close to their studio (like Kazuo before and Yoshito Ohno now). Their studio is a tiny but lovely and cozy place, an adapted storage house, full of what I call “perceptible Butoh energy”: the floor, the windows, the books, the photos of the masters, costumes, things.

I was lucky to be the only student; they were not going to give a workshop this week because of personal problems, but I told them that I was leaving Japan soon and they kindly offered me to do the workshop only for me.

We did three exercises and one improvisation:

-Standing still, feeling the space.

-Walking with a simple movement of arms while feeling the edges of our skin.

-Walking with a glass full of water.

-A 20-minute free improvisation.

Depicted like this it seems very simple and, if you are familiar with Yoshito Ohno’s workshops, all the exercises recall you what many have worked at Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio.

What made them different and, in some way, special for me this time, was something I also felt when I saw their performance two weeks ago: congruency and deep exploration. Each exercise at Mutsumi and Neiro workshop has to be explored in a very deep and compromised way, like their own work on stage. Slowliness here is not a technical exigence, but a result of the compromise they ask you to have while doing the exploration. It is not just doing it, but putting everything you have and being completely in it. The total exigence in Kazuo Ohno’s work.  Neiro even mentioned a Japanese word for this, nantokashite.

I didn’t expect that their workshop was going to be the hardest I would experience during this trip in Japan -and I’ve taken many, believe me- but it was. I think we found the reason during our talk while dining (delicious Mutsumis’s cooking) after: nantokashite. I was expecting the relaxed way Yoshito Ohno works his workshops, just making the proposition and let it go on free dancing without judgment or with minimal observations. Instead Mutsumi and Neiro work with Yoshito’s wisdom and with Kazuo’s exigence; they put me in line within my own compromise with Butoh, with my own body, and my own work with just some direct sentences. I have to admit it, that was hard. 

Simple, deep, serious like their own performance. 

Yes, the homemade dinner Mutsumi cooked after was delicious, the talk a little bit more and the dessert was saying good bye with a memorable selfie. 

Walking to the train station over the enormous river I saw the moon, the same moon we used to dance every session at Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio with Yoshito Ohno. Now the moon and its reflection is also in Hirai, I’m probably carrying a little bit of it on me.

(Saturday February 23rd, 2019)

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