Archivo de la categoría: Founder Fathers

“If you feel that the flower is beautiful, then you are beautiful.” -Learning Butoh with Yoshito Ohno-

Being a flower. Yoshito Ohno studio. (Yokohama, Japan. Gustavo Thomas © 2011.)

(This is part of a personal Blog I wrote during my first visit to learn Butoh in Japan in Spring 2011. After the passing of master Yoshito Ohno in January 2020, I decided to repost all testimonials I’ve written about his teachings and work to keep his memory and his teachings alive).

Yoshito tells us that Hijikata used to say: “Your body possesses everything within, you just have to find it” and he would add that the way in which Kazuo Ohno and Hijikata did that was through Butoh.  Moving every day, each moment of their lives, every moment of doubt, of inspiration, of relaxation, of crisis; moving every moment of discipline and work, of dreaming, of pain, of remembrance.  And it’s true, that attitude is completely logical:  else, how could we find the all within our bodies if we don’t immerse ourselves totally in it, rummaging in every detail of our unknown interior?

The search is done initially by walking, and the slow pace would seem a premise.  In our slow walking we discover that the experience is risky too:  if our body contains all, then, besides life and prayer and love, it also contains death itself and its ghosts, that which others suffer and others ask themselves, violence and grudges, fears and anguish, mental labyrinths and hells… everything.

In those games of the logic of being congruent with our Butoh, Yoshito adds other words from Hijikata:  “the dead body always walks risking life.”

Nothing in the studio of master Ohno is compulsory; a proposal for movement is not an order, nobody is forced to search for their hates, their fears or their violence; everything is simple, soft; something is commented, something is told, something is proposed, and then we must move.  The risk appears because it finds you when you move, like a sunlight or a mother that cradles her baby. 

So, while moving in that search of the all within, I could write at the end of my second session:  “I’ve just arrived from my work with Yoshito Ohno.  Today, dancing, I was a three-day flower, a blossoming peach tree that died in the wind, a prayer, and a child’s heart.”

Our body contains everything and can transform itself into anything.  The proposal was always “be”, “you are…”

“If you feel that the flower is beautiful, then you are beautiful” would tell us Kazuo Ohno through the voice of his son,  Yoshito.

Tens of photos, both of Kazuo Ohno and of Tatsumi Hijikata, show them “being” that which they imagined while moving.  I remember them and learn too.

Kazuo Ohno, a pond. Book cover of Hidden Body, The World of Kazuo Ohno.
Hijikata being earth. Photo by Eikoh Hosoe. (book Kamaitachi)

And in that studio, for various sessions, we were dozens of flowers, under different circumstances and conditions; we were silk, and with it we learned the softness and strength of our bodies, by being the characteristics of silk, by touching silk, we discovered in movement the characteristics of our bodies; and we were bamboo too, and with bamboo in our hands, we explored the strength of our exterior and the emptiness of our interior, the hollowness of our physicality.

Stretch your inner self like the silk. Yoshito Ohno studio. (Photo by Gustavo Thomas. Yokohama, 2011)

We were all if we found it in movement.  There are no fixed structures but each session some patterns repeated themselves:  Yoshito talks, shows, demonstrates, exposes, asks us to move based on that, we always do it with music, after some 5 minutes he stops, continues talking about the same subject or changes to a new one.  And so for two hours every session.  At the end, some tea and snacks while we talked about the petty details of life.

How happy I was because I was never judged on whether I really was the flower, silk, bamboo, the sea or the wave!  That’s right, I was never judged, nor were the others: we were invited to be and to move while being, and just that.

Looking at pictures of Rodin’s sculptures we learnt that he, like Butoh, was revolutionary because they didn’t imitate the movement of the body, but were simply the body that was expressed in itself, it was a kiss or a hug or a pride.  We learnt that impressionist painters, like Butoh, were revolutionary because they offered life from other angles, and that those impressionists got their inspiration to discover those angles from Hokusai and, in particular, his piece “The Wave.”

And then we moved being water, being the sea, being waves, being the force of gravity, the moon itself, and the wave again.  We were, in the line of the water (and not always in the same session), the feminine and the moon; we danced to a piece by Chopin, we remembered the mother, the bosom of the mother; we lived the night and retook the sea.

With a piece of cloth we discovered the intensity of our interior:  by stretching it or squeezing it the intensity was bigger; by relaxing its stretching our interior diminished its intensity.  We played with emotions without knowing which ones they were; it was my mind that associated to some, to my past, to my inventions, to my hidden desires, it responded to what the cloth itself was, my body in contact with the force applied to that piece of cloth. 

Training Butoh at Yoshito Ohno’s Workshop. (By Gustavo Thomas. Yokohama, 2011)

Yoshito tells us about the “remnants of emotion”, that which remains after squeezing the cloth of our emotions, that which remains and weighs and drags within.  While he commented he moved, his walking was slow, tense, heavy.  He talked about the difficulty of expressing those remnants on stage, of the so called “forte pianissimo” and he also moved with great intensity but in an extremely soft way: – “forte pianissimo” – he repeated while moving, and invited us to try.  “This is a challenge to face, every day” – he would explain.  Kazuo Ohno was a master of that “forte pianissimo”.

In the line of emotions we made them body and voice:  on a single occasion (and explaining that he did it specially because I was an actor), he asked me to say a sentence on the heaviness of life, in my language, and to say it while walking.  We were all charged with the search for the forte pianissimo.  Then he asked one of the participants to climb on my back and let his weigh drop on me; I was supposed to continue repeating the sentence during all my walking. That night we didn’t talk more.

I felt the flower was beautiful, then I was beautiful…

Yes, that night we didn’t talk more; but some other days we sang…

(Texts, photographs and videos in this Blog are all author’s property, except when marked. All rights reserved by Gustavo Thomas. If you have any interest in using any text, photograph or video from this Blog, for commercial use or not, please contact Gustavo Thomas at gustavothomastheatre@gmail.com)

At the beginning are the founders, the prayer and the offering. -Learning Butoh with Yoshito Ohno-

(This is part of a personal Blog I wrote during my first visit to learn Butoh in Japan in Spring 2011. After the passing of master Yoshito Ohno in January 2020, I decided to repost all testimonials I’ve written about his teachings and work to keep his memory and his teachings alive).

The three Butoh masters in an improvised niche. Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio. (2011)

Butoh is young, very young; it was born in the fifties of the 20th century and it specifically recognizes a single founder, Tatsumi Hijikata. Hijikata discovered in Kazuo Ohno a partner for his Butoh revolution. Kazuo sensei then becomes for many the co-founder of the new dance and, according to others, its counterpart as well: while Hijikata worked what was grotesque, dark, tense and destructive, Kazuo worked what was bright, soft, loving. Through them both Butoh takes on an unusual expansion and its influence will cover hundreds of artists of all fields around the world.

The first thing master Yoshito Ohno did, after we introduced each other, was to show me a book with photographs by William Klein, ‘Tokyo’, with images of Kazuo Ohno, Tatsumi Hijikata and Yoshito Ohno doing a “happening” in Shimbashi area in 1960. It was like telling me that he was part of the big moment in Butoh (and indeed he was part of it; a kind of presentation of himself as someone to be trusted).

William Klein photograph of Kazuo Ohno, Tatsumi Hijikata and Yoshito Ohno. (William Klein © 1960)
William Klein photograph of Kazuo Ohno, Tatsumi Hijikata and Yoshito Ohno. (William Klein © 1960)

Yoshito Ohno has always been there; from the beginning he has been an observer and a total practitioner of the Butoh revolution in Japanese art, of its development and its changes: as a 19 year old teenager he took part in the first recognized Butoh performance “Kinjiki” with Tatsumi Hijkata as a dance partner, and from that on he continued participating in several performances choreographed by Hijikata; he learned from his father how to dance; he saw Hijikata die and accompanied his father in every performance during his last 30 years. Being part of its own mythology, Yoshito Ohno transmits Butoh through the example of the creators in the same place in which Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata worked for years, where Kazuo Ohno left his own legacy. He is part of that legacy.

Yoshito Ohno dancing at his father studio. (Gustavo Thomas © 2011)

Any instruction to follow in the workshop of master Yoshito Ohno has as a benchmark either of the two founders of Butoh, some of their movements, some of their anecdotes, some of their speeches, some of the comments by others on their work: if you’re going to move your hands, master Ohno talks about Hijikata’s hands when he was on stage, about how they seemed to emanate energy from the fingers and palms; if it had to do with the feet, he speaks of how Hijikata had such strength in his feet that, the day he died, at midnight, a sparrow came and stood on them for a moment; if you’re going to work with the gaze, he talks about how Kazuo avoided the gaze directed toward the ground while he moved along the floor or how he seduced theater technicians with movement and gaze exercises that earned him the respect of those who did not know who he was. If someone had talked about the creation of a surreal body in Kazuo (and that’s what a Japanese critic called it), that served us to search for our own surreality and create it in our body. In the beginning, in Yoshito Ohno’s teachings, there are always the founders of Butoh.

They then, the creating teachers, are our starting point and inspiration. To them we also offer our work.

And before every offering, we should pray, we should learn how to pray for our selves in movement.

Never before, until the first day of work with master Yoshito Ohno, had I heard of the idea of praying on stage, in a way so simple, and without implying any religion. Several Western teachers had told me about a sacred workspace, but they seemed clumsy attempts to sanctify something that was totally alien to us.

The first step is, always, to pray.

Yoshito Ohno explained to us that Butoh dance was born out of the memories in Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno of the terrible tragedies of the Second World War, their hatred and their pain; he talked about how Kazuo had suffered in his journey back to Japan from the Philippines, of how he had seen people die on the boat, and that he prayed with them, with those images, and that he also offered them his movement. Then he would ask: what’s in your prayer? about what do you pray? for whom do you pray? And that way we began to move.

Yoshito Ohno playing the same music as his father did. (Gustavo Thomas © 2011)

Every day the starting working sentence was “pray”(inoru “祈る”), then he would go where there the sound system was and began playing records, two, three, four pieces: Schubert’s Ave Maria (which Kazuo so appreciated), Il mio babbino caro (by Maria Callas), Amazing Grace, or pieces of Buddhist music. And then we prayed, day by day, and each session, and in its repetition new possibilities for prayer were in us: I prayed for those dead who Kazuo saw, for my own dead ones, I prayed for the image of a dying Kazuo, for the feet of Hijikata’s corpse, I prayed for my own past … and I moved, like the others who were there and  who also prayed and moved.

Learning how to pray through movement. Yoshito Ohno’s Butoh Workshop. (Gustavo Thomas © 2011)

From that praying came the offering, our movement as an offering: the story of that offering by Kazuo for all those dead people was profoundly powerful, just as the one in which he dedicated his dances to his mother, to the great love he felt for her, where his prayer turned into the sensation of an umbilical cord on stage which was in reality a huge womb.

That offering was a petition, a petition to our strength, to the workspace, contact with it, all our senses on it, with all four corners, four sides, the ground, the sky.

Our movement shouldn’t be external, prayer and the offering should be internal:

“Nobody knows how you must pray and offer yourself, only you, find your prayer, find your way of offering by moving.”

It is an ongoing exploration.

That was more than a month ago and today, back home, I still do that, exploring;  every day I wake up to move and pray with the momentum of those searching sessions in Yokohama … Why? I can not say for sure why, I just think I simply need it now.


Texts, photographs and videos in this Blog are all author’s property, except when marked. All rights reserved by Gustavo Thomas. If you have any interest in using any text, photograph or video from this Blog, for commercial use or not, please contact Gustavo Thomas at gustavothomastheatre@gmail.com.