In october 2018 I stayed at the Buddhist temple of Sinheungsa inside Seoraksan National Park in the northeast of South Korea. The impotence coming from my censored performance of Languid Bodies in Guangzhou had been too much for me. I needed fresh air, nature, freedom, calm and meditation, and Sinheungsa gave me all of that.
At dawn that day we went for a meditation and chants session (as the Buddhist monk do every day); after that I decided to offer my Butoh moving with the flow of that day.
Here you have the video of that improvised performance.
My last session at Yuri & Seisaku’s Butoh workshop couldn’t be more touching exploring darkness and light as impulse of the movement.
When Seisaku explored for first time this exercise Hijikata made him stay seated under the sun for two hours, Seisaku told us in that mythical way all talk about that time when Hijikata was alive.
After Yuri guided the physical training, we worked the exercises of today’s Butoh:
-Seated with one knee in the floor to keep ourselves active we explored light and darkness: light, receiving from the sun, up; darkness attracting our body down to the earth, covered by layers of darkness.
-Light and darkness, sky and earth, day and night, one after the other.
-Feeding ourselves of light (wholes with lights in the room).
-Looking for the lights (light coming in through the windows), those sources of light afar, from the buildings, from the street and again feeding our bodies with those lights.
-With wholes of lights all over the studio and windows opened looking for parts of the body absorbing the light, one by one.
-Walking in a forest full with fireflies, looking for them; two fireflies are in our stomach, so we can attract easily the others to our bodies.
-The night, the stars, the forest, fireflies flying into our body one by one flying all over or body, till be hundreds inside.
-Balls of light around attract us, threads of light linking those balls of light to our bodies.
-Holding a ball of light in front of us, the light of the ball (which is no more a spherical material object) shows us our family inside, it is the light of our best family moments that lightens our face.
Many moments during the exercises were remarkable, memorable, touching, full of… light.
After the workshop we went to an Okinawa’s food restaurant to have dinner, I said good bye to them and we took the impossible to forget selfie all together.
A little note apart:
I asked Seisaku if he had seen Hijikata’s choreography performance of Tohoku Kabuki Plan IV, as I watched the video yesterday at the Hijikata Archive, and he told me that he actually had performed in that show, and described some actions and reactions. Well, what can I say? Simple that speaks for itself the importance of me being on his side learning from the line of the original fathers.
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.
When I wrote my email to reserve my place for this event I received a reply saying that this was not going to be a proper performance, but only “a gig”. Then at his worksop Kudo told me that it was going to be something simple, just a 15 minute improvisation.
As I’d never seen him performing live before I didn’t care, I’d already made my mind to assist, and also because I know when a butohka says that it’s going to be a short improvisation it’s always a false statement, it never happens that way.
This was an improvised performance with two musicians playing what I call concrete music (but it could be only contemporary music; sorry for my ignorance), with chords and percussions, and Kudo Taketeru as a dancer.
At the beginning I felt that Kudo was listening and reacting to the sounds, looking for a way to follow the difficult noise; he was acting in some way, so I was watching a person on stage, not even a transformed actor.
When he was a person little happened to me, even I had the impression that he was trying to be humorous unsuccessfully, curiously avoiding theatrically. Then after some 15 minutes (maybe more) of heating actions and repetitions he took off his clothes. It is when everything changed in front of us.
We saw a naked body now (just wearing a tiny thong), no more a person; he was a body, only a body. I don’t remember have seen that transformation since Ko Murobushi performances in the 1990s, with the difference that Ko was less theatrical, more primitive probably.
The moment we saw Kudo’s body naked he became movement, impulsive physical -improvised- actions; jumpings, falls, tremors, knocks on the walls, lashes on the walls, hits on the wall, we forgot the person to put all our attention in the moving body. Sometimes in the heat of the improvisation of that body the actor appeared again but this time using his masterful theatrical skills (if I can make it like that) becoming for instants a demon, an animal, a monster, a theatrical physical image, then erased the actor to be again only that body in those impulsive actions.
Kudo’s body is a spectacle when moving on stage too, because of how he moves, yes, but mostly for how it looks: big and heavy bonnes and developed muscles with almost no fat, skin with no hair, strong legs, strong gluteals, thin but muscular torso, long black hair, a big mouth, big hands (with long fingers), strong feet, so particular eyes that seems to have strabismus. He was sweating profusely and used that sweat on his improvisation like an expansion of his body, like a costume.
The music, as I said before, was difficult, improvised and interesting but complex, free but with some monotony coming directly from its style; never a melody, never sentimental feeling; there was no melodrama here, no sentimentalism, no way for a deep musical introspection, only flux of sound, running energy, noisy jumps and stops with a half of second of silence and then noise again. Kudo worked all the time listening to the music, with fluidity too, but sometimes with only external pace of movement. In one moment I felt the music started to follow him.
He was the king on that stage by that time.
There were climax, two or three perhaps. I remember one especially powerful because Kudo didn’t let it go away. That’s when the body he had become transformed itself in a demon, not a ghost because never was airy, it was a body becoming a demon of flesh.
Yes, we had to wait for this moment for quite a long in terms of performance time, watching the person, the actor going in many ways, trying many forms, but it was worth the wait.
(Atelier Dai Q Geijutsu, Tokyo. Thursday February 14th, 2019)
I went to see “Dance in February” by Mutsumi & Neiro, two dear colleagues I met at Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio almost six years ago during my second travel to study Butoh in Japan.
The work is simple in its structure, two choreographies (if we want to call them like that) or solo parts, “Ginbasha” and “Neiro Superlight” linked by only one powerful thing, the humanity of the characters/performers. I chose the word ‘humanity’ because most Butoh techniques today try precisely to erase the humanity of the body looking for a primitive nature of it or as many say “killing it”.
This was also not an improvised work but most of it was as fresh as it was improvised, alive as it was the first time they were doing those movements on the stage. But freshness, even as a possible quality of the work, was not the essential thing here. What it was striking for me, touching in many senses, was that they were two worlds doing things, yes, two worlds walking, cleaning, seating, jumping, dancing, watching; two profound microcosmos living on stage, moving their bodies like simple people but in such complexity that only they as performers could do it. And if that was remarkable they didn’t look like they were dancing.
He, dressed with a shirt with no sleeves, white underwear and a clownesque tocado on the head; his skin painted in white and his face lightly remind us a circus performer. She, dressed with many layers of clothes, a wig and a delicate hat with almost no make up, ending with only one brilliant blue leotard.
It was obvious that this was not a normal choreography of Butoh or even a theatrical story, but a piece of two characters. Yes, the presence of the performers was as profound as if they were two well constructed characters. So, in one moment I thought, -this is absurd, there are doing almost nothing but showing us what they are, this is like Theatre of the Absurd. What I’m watching is like a piece written by Beckett with Beckettian characters, with all the absurdity that means watching two human beings alive completely elaborated by the passing of time and the weight of the world over them-.
Watching Neiro and Mutsumi performing their Butoh was watching the masks, the alive costumes of two human beings, who are not capable of changing anything but just living those layers of life. It was sweet, painful, deep, absurd again, and touching but never moved us to tears. Each one of them had soul on stage and that soul moved us around their deep works.
Here we don’t see any kind of parafernalia of the body, anything but sutil transformation, like -comparisons aside- Kazuo Ohno performing his mother or La Argentina. If there were skills showing in this “technique” that Mutsumi and Neiro used it those were from inner nature, from the soul; they were acrobats of the soul.
I’m happy to have seen this particular Butoh performance, because they are a good reason to understand that the other path in Butoh is alive, that path coming from Kazuo Ohno’s work and that it is full of humanity and artistic endeavour.
At the beginning it is strange to watch, it is difficult, it is not easy to get the code of the movement. I realised that I had no instruments to critize the dance I was watching. I was only a witness of the difficulty a handicapped body had to move on that stage. Between being sleepy and being looking for a sense I started noticing details of that movement, of that new offer to my virgin eyes: her legs completely relaxed but with her feet alive; one hand more expressive than the other but with fingers that could twist like Balinese dancer; those deep black eyes; the impossible shape of the back.
My mind was twisted too, anxious, waiting perhaps for that body to become ‘normal’, agile, skilled and then I could use my educated filters and known artistic parameters to enjoy it.
I had to let it go, waiting for something to happen was not going to be the way.
When that body spoke, when that body was carried out to and in to the stage by black shadows (like in traditional Noh theatre or Bunraku), it changed clothes, played drums, then I saw that the ill body had become the body of a hero, the body of a mythological Titan. Yes, the presence I was watching moving on that stage became immense, and me, I was only a humble and weak ‘normal’ body witnessing the prowess of the unique, because I knew I will never move in that way, I will never dance like that body, because I’m simply incapable of doing it. I don’t have the divine conditions that body has.
The last choreography was she dressed as a beautiful lady, a Madonna perhaps, with an enormous paper flower as a tocado on the hair dancing a painful Aria like she was singing it. I only let my tears drop on that espace, and I was grateful for being there.
This was a dance performance linked to the handicapped body performed by a handicapped dancer. A dance influenced by Butoh no doubt, but probably -if we understand some of the original Tatsumi Hijikata’s words- a dance that is one of the sources of our dear Butoh.
(The Suzunari Theatre, Tokyo, Japan. Saturday February 9th, 2019)
This evening was raining in Tokyo and at the end of the session the water had become watersnow (you know it is winter in Japan).
This time I took the subway and not the train, just to try a different way, and I realized that it was 6 minutes walk from the metro station to the room instead of 12 minutes coming from the train station, so it’s worth the change.
Yuri arrived late, we started with Seisaku doing also the physical training. It was the first time I heard him speaking English; he knows many words but as Yuri speaks better English he is just shy (or lazy) letting her doing all the translations during the workshops. Finally she arrived and continued the physical training till the point we all got exhausted.
For the second part, the Butoh one, Seisaku asked if anyone had a neck injury because the whole session was going to be a work with that part of the body. We all were good and he continued.
He started speaking about the horse and its body, as usual doing the movements himself while doing the indications.
The most important thing to start here it was the long body of the animal and the movement of the neck coming from the bottom of the spine.
We had to work in couples: one was the front part of the horse while the other, holding the waist of his/her partner, was the back.
After that exercise we started the evolutive process he always uses. These are the exercises we worked at the session:
-Movement of the neck and long body of the horse (in couples)
-5 movements of the horse. A kind of basic movements choreography. (The video In posting is from this exercise doing it by Yumiko Yoshioka, Yuri Nagaoka and Kosule Ishiwara)
-Atmosphere around the 5 movements: morning with breeze and fog.
-Consciousness of the house being in a group of houses.
-Adding more details around: following a fly, eating grass, smelling the others, touching.
-The group again but keeping all the 5 actions worked before.
-A free improvisation using everything we’d worked and whatever came to us around the subject.
Then something came as a twist during this series of exercises:
-From the experience of the sounds coming from the horses Seisaku went to explain the movements of the Loch Ness monster as the movements of a dinosaur, with its heavy weight, super long neck and its sound coming from its immense body. The importance of the spine again for the movements of that dinosaur’s neck. We had to work that mythic dinosaur with its heavy weight, long neck in the shape of a S and its deep sound.
-The long neck became then the long -fantastic- neck of the rokurokubi, the famous Japanese ghost. So we worked that ghost with his long twisted neck that he/she doesn’t even know where it goes. (I’m posting the image of rokurokuri drawn by Hokusai)
-Finally a free improvisation being the horse, the dinosaur or the long neck ghost, or the three together if we wanted. Seisaku even remember Hijikata saying the we could become many horses in one moment.
We all truly enjoyed the session, another one when there is very few indications about the personal quality of our work, but mostly the emphasis is to work, to practice. Seisaku comments and laughs and takes photographs while we are working, he is everything but the image of the inspired divinized Butoh master, he doesn’t want to become that.
But the most enjoyable thing for me, of course, is the process, what I call “the evolutive process to become and be”. Step by step, we work everytime the different levels of a transformation till the moment we become something we’re working on. Here, the philosophy of Butoh is in the practice of becoming.
After the session almost the whole group went to have dinner again. I ate fantastic raw chicken and some unforgettable good cold soba noodles, and went home past midnight again.