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“Pride Chinese Style” Telling the story of the start of my first Photo/Butoh Project in China.

Why “Pride Chinese Style”

When I arrived to Guangzhou at the beginning of this year 2018 I was introduced almost immediately to the LGTBQ world of the region thanks to a reception the General Consul of Belgium in Guangzhou, Joris Selden, and his husband Fabio Melchiorri, gave to celebrate the beginning of a new year. At that reception I had the opportunity to meet – among many others – two very interesting Chinese personalities: Wing and Ryan, in their English names. Their stories opened to me the world of some LGTBQ organizations in the city, working with all the joy and complications that living openly as a gay person means within a culture that slowly and little by little is opening its doors to minorities.

Ryan is one of the people in charge of Zhitong, an organization that helps and gives advise mostly to members of the gay community. Wing is an energetic person who organizes a monthly LGTBQ session called Tango Queer at the Tango academy, where he learns and practices.

In China it is prohibited to make a public display of LGTBQ pride (parade, rights demonstration, gatherings without police permission). Any celebration must be in private, as it is the Tango session, or very close monitored by the government, as it is with Zhitong.

The two groups, each in its own way, offer to me a Chinese-style vision of the melting pot of colors that is the LGTBQ rainbow. They’re proud Chinese, proud of their orientation and their personal choices. They are fighters expressing their Pride in their unique ways.

I decided to start my first photo-performance project in Guangzhou with them, about them, and about the people they gather and work with, watching and analyzing their way of being LGTBQ, but from my own perspective, that of a Photo and Butoh performer man married to another man in a society like Mexico’s and who, after many years of legal and social rejection, has opened almost completely to the different possibilities of gender.

About the project

This project, which will continue to grow and develop during the three years I plan to live in Guangzhou, includes documentary photography, digital interventions and Butoh performances inspired by the daily work and life of these two groups, as well as others that may offer me access to their unique worlds and spaces. 

In this starting first phase, which I’ve called “Document”, I’m working with portraits and images that, by themselves and without further embellishment, tell us the stories of the protagonists of these two groups, Zhitong and Tango Queer, with a focus on their places, their bodies and their movements, in their simple and daily tasks and activities. There is no digital intervention yet, but a small bite of Butoh through some improvisations with Wing and Juan from the Tango Queer group.

My idea for the Butoh work in this project is what some people call “intervention”, going directly to the real places my subjects are working and do some improvisations while they are doing their daily tasks, and probably, if that works, doing a whole performance mixing my surreal Butoh performance with the real time of their normal life. Of course, working with Tango Queer was easier, as they are performers too, but more difficult with Zhitong whom members are not close to any artistic attitude. It is a risky adventure, and I’ll see how this goes.


The first show

What it was a great surprise was that the Mexican Consulate in Guangzhou gave me the opportunity to show the results of the fist phase of the project taking part of the LGTBQ month celebrations in the city. They were organizing, with many other consulates and organizations in the city, a film festival around the LGTBQ subject, so they thought it was a good moment to show my work and it really was. We prepared a photo exhibition and a Tango and Butoh improvisation for the opening. A kind of success because they asked for another show one week later.

Even I’ve built a website around the project ( Pride Chinese Style ) I’d like to share the same information and images here in my Butoh Blog, specially to keep track of it as part of my Butoh world.




Phase 1, Document, “Zhitong”

(Photographs for exhibition)


Phase 1, Document, “Tango Queer”

(Photographs for exhibtion)


Phase 1, Documents/ Butoh.

(Butoh performance preparation) *(1)



Finally some images of the two presentations we had at the gallery of the Mexican Consulate on June 21st and June 26th.  You’ll notice that the name of this exhibition was “Rainbow in Chinese Style”; the consulate asked to avoid the word “Pride” because could cause problems with Chinese authorities; I thought this was not an issue that affected the body of the project. *(2)



*(1) All photographs in this section was taken by Zangtai Taizo and processed by Gustavo Thomas.

*(2) Photographs taken by the public, by people from the Mexican Consulate and stills I extracted from a video.


Under The Bridge (Butoh/Video)

After some weeks with enormous work around our first Photoperformance exhibition in China I gave me some time to process one of the videos recorded during my Butoh improvisation under Dadao bridge in Ersha Island.

As I usually do when processing the videos of my improvs, the music you listen to was added after. It always surprises me how it can fit with the movement, giving to the performance a new, even twisted atmosphere, from the original.

If you watch this on a mobile phone screen probably the quality of some details, hands and facial gestures for example, will be lost, so I advice watching the video on a bigger screen.

Under The Bridge from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.

If you are in China and don’t use VPN you can watch the video on Youku: Under The Bridge

In two weeks I’ll be performing my Butoh along with two Chinese Tango dancers during the opening of my first photoperformance exhibition in China. I’ll hope to record some material and show it to you here later.

The Languid Fall (Short Extract From Languid Bodies)

Now that I’m looking for a place to perform again my Butoh and Video work ‘Languid Bodies’ in China, I recovered a video from one specific performance show in Morelia, Michoacán, México, recorded in 2016.

Even though my Butoh performances are mostly improvised (but with a defined structure), I thought a short part of this video could work as a taste for the live performance.

This short ‘The languid fall’ is part of the third (of seven) section named Violence.

The Languid Fall (Languid Bodies) from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.

If you are in China you can see the video on Youku:


Butoh Improvisation Under Guangzhou Dadao Bridge in Ersha Island

After three months trying to adapt myself to the Chinese city of Guangzhou, looking for a place for training and creation, I could find two or three sites around the city to perform my  improvisations.

This first one I’m talking about now was very close to my new home, in Ersha Island, under a highway bridge with exceptional perspective and bizarre good lighting, almost as if was thought to be used as a performance venue. You know me, I couldn’t resist doing something there.

I chose one Saturday evening. The heat was -at 6 pm- just bearable and I only had to fight with some mosquitoes, but my main concern actually was not the weather conditions but the police. China has a policy that prohibits any kind of public manifestation without permission from the police, permission that could never come, because of the bureaucracy or just because someone doesn’t want to have any problem asking for it to his superiors. Anyway, it was a question of luck: if the police didn’t show and the street surveillance cameras were not recording anything I could get along without any problem; but, if the police arrived then it would depend of the criteria of the guard, he would let me go with my performance or ask me to leave or even he would arrest me.

As my Butoh improvisation is not a performance organized to be public (it is just done at a public area), and I assume it is not political, my bet was, with not much risk, that I would get along with it without any altercation.

The police did arrive in the middle of my performance, but for some reason the guard just looked at me while passing by and he didn’t stop nor did anything, and walked away. So, I was lucky, the first test passed without a problem.

People passed by and stood for a little time and then went away too, some took photographs, and even a lady stopped by and started to give some advice about where to do the performance with better light while taking some photographs with her phone. What I loved was to see how some riding bicycles got attracted by what I was doing and changed their way to see better. I was all alive and fresh, exactly what I look in my Butoh improvs around the world.

I didn’t use any make up ( I didn’t want to attract much attention) or wore a thong, but I did wore some of my traditional black dresses, a net, and a Japanese mask. I put not very loud music and I stayed performing almost in the same area without doing much fuss around. I really loved the results, at least in photographic images.

We’ll see if I keep that impression after I process the video.

(Thanks, as always, to my personal cameraman Zangtai Taizo for being there once again.)

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In an interview with NHK in 1993 Kazuo Ohno was questioned about his experience in working on producing his first performances:

Kazuo Ohno: “I was challenging to make ends meet. A lot goes into making a performance but back then my approach differed to how I work nowadays. Now, I wouldn’t dream of preparing anything in advance. A performance must be born at the moment. This spontaneous outburst is what really counts. Dance must be deeply connected with one’s own life. By constructing a dance with preordained movements and gestures one can easily replicate them. But that’s not what I’m after.” *

There is a complex chapter in the study of Kazuo Ohno’s work about his own way of create and perform with many researchers using commonly the word “improvisation” in a very vague way. Saying that Kazuo Ohno didn’t prepare anything in advance has been rebuked by many, but not the least the idea of “what it counts is this spontaneous outburst” or that “Dance must be deeply connected with one’s own life”.

To clarify this subject I’d like to recall an essay by Mariko Miyagawa about Kazuo Ohno’s Butoh-fo (notations of Butoh):

“Ohno did not improvise perfectly; he created the frame of his dance by writing words and elaborating his images to keep his memory more vividly and to recreate it. I would like to give a name, “the choreography which has undetermined elements,” to this method of Ohno’s.” *

Kazuo Ohno’s work notes for a first performance of Admiring La Argentina (© Ohno Dance Studio Archives)


So, Kazuo Ohno actually worked in advance but not in the way one could expect, not in a preordained choreography, with movements steps by steps, but with points of reference for his own inner movement, like if they were sea buoys marking the frontiers in the water of his creativity. 

On the other hand Takao Kawaguchi, in his study of the videos recorded of Kazuo Ohno’s performances to perform himself like Kazuo Ohno, gives us another perspective. Kawaguchi assures that in different performances of the same production Ohno worked almost exactly the same movements at the same timing and rhythm, like if he was aware of a preconceived choreography even if he didn’t worked it in that sense. That’s what helped Kawaguchi to follow a pattern of movements to imitate the work of the master in his 2017 Butoh production.*

Takao Kawaguchi imitating Kazuo Ohno


Finally I want to mention a memory from 2014:  I recall that Ko Murobushi explained, in a very sarcastic way and imitating Ohno’s movements, that all the physical work of Kazuo Ohno could just be resumed in a spiral directed to the sky.* For Ko Murobushi Ohno was only repeating the same physical structure of movement in every one of his performances.


Kazuo Ohno an its spiral to the sky.


So, probably the creation in our Butoh is not “improvisation” per-se (“perfect improvisation” as Mariko Miyagawa called it), but the “outburst of the moment”, the impulse who carries on the movement which could be always new during every performance, even with repeated movements from a choreography or fixed through all previous performances.

Probably it is mostly improvisation during the time of creation, during the process and rehearsals, resulting in a choreography or points of reference to not get lost during the performance to a public, and then, at the moment, be aware of the improvised moment of creativity that was the source of everything and look for the outburst of that instant connecting our dance with our own life.


*1-(Extracted from the video-interview “Kazuo Ohno in conversation at 86”. April, 1993.)

*2-(Mariko Miyagawa “Kazuo Ohno’s Dance and His Methodology: From Analyzing His Butoh-fu “)

*3-In this case it let us the question if Kawaguchi really got the impulse to master those movements or only repeated the physical action without the “outburst of the moment”.

*4-Personal memories from Ko Murobushi’s Butoh workshop at LEIMAY, New York, 2014.


(These texts -and experiences- are part of my daily Butoh training, trying to make some sense of something which probably has absolutely no sense.)


#Butoh #theory #arttechnique #KazuoOhno #improvisation #Butohtechnique #TakaoKaguawuchi #KoMurobushi #MarikoMiyagawa #NHK #Interview #Outburst #Creativity #ButohFu  



Kazuo Ohno: “I don’t try to hide my age, it is like if I was watching myself. I saw a book in Dresden that had the image of an old and tired horse; I felt as if my whole life was inside that horse.

In that picture the horse was moving; there was also an old tree and a fruit of life was sprouting from it. The horse ran on the fallen leaves of the tree, they watched him running. Where is that picture? It is within me. This horse runs inside me.” *

Kazuo Ohno Horse Drawing Dresden
The drawing of the Old Horse. Still Photography from a video: Interview to Kazuo Ohno. NHK, 1993.


Kazuo Ohno saw this picture during the 1980s and he kept the image and the impression all the time with him. When Peter Sempel finally realized the documentary “Kazuo Ohno: Dance into the Light”* (he was filming Ohno during more than 10 years, I understand) Kazuo Ohno was ill but still dancing even when his legs couldn’t respond anymore. The images in that documentary show master Ohno from his 80s until almost his death around 100. At the last part of the documentary it shows to us one very old man with a deep inner world, almost in a perpetual state of inspiration or meditation, perhaps even pain. The image of the old horse was within him all the time and, yes, he was still dancing and the horse was still running inside him.

I’ve been training with these images and words for almost two weeks, and I have not had, at anytime, the feeling of being that old horse,-maybe that’s good, maybe not-. On the contrary, what was striking to me was the feeling of strength I was gaining with every day of training passing, as if those sentences were a kind of talisman to gain force. In one moment today, when iI was on the floor dancing without using my legs, like Kazuo in his last years, I thought that I was probably preparing myself for the years to come, for the illness, for the moment I will need the image of the old horse running on the young falling leaves of the tree. I felt motivated, yes, inspired by the old man-horse that master Ohno was.

Sometimes I have to assume my inner magic world, and don’t ask more reasons, and avoid logic. 

I’m grateful that the words of the master are powerful and that power works for me. 




*1-Interview with Kazuo Ohno in “Kazuo Ohno, the last emperor of dance” by Gustavo Collini Sartor. Original in Spanish:

Kazuo Ohno: “No trato de ocultar mi vejez, es como si me estuviese viendo a mi mismo. Yo vi en Dresden un libro que tenía la imagen de un caballo viejo y cansado; sentí como si toda mi vida estuviera dentro de ese caballo.

En aquella imagen el caballo se estaba moviendo; había también un viejo árbol al que le estaba brotando el fruto de la vida. El caballo corría sobre las hojas caídas del árbol, éstas lo observaban correr. ¿Donde se encuentra esa imagen? Está dentro de mí. Este caballo corre por mi interior.” (Entrevista a Kazuo Ohno en “Kazuo Ohno, el último emperador de la danza” de Gustavo Collini Sartor.)

*2-“Kazuo Ohno: Dance into the Light” by Peter Sempel. You can watch the whole documentary in youtube:


(These texts -and experiences- are part of my daily Butoh training, trying to make some sense of something which probably has absolutely no sense.)

#Butoh #theory #arttechnique #KazuoOhno #Butohtechnique #PeterSempel #Life #OldAge 

El filósofo poeta entre la muerte y la vida (Bitácora de trabajo)

Kazuo Ohno:

“En los últimos momentos de alegría y de tristeza 

los ojos del muerto están totalmente abiertos, 

pero no ven las cosas. 

La eternidad en medio del instante. 

En ese instante, ¿qué será lo que ven los ojos? 

La muerte y el sueño sin parientes, 

La vida en la gracia de la muerte 

Y la muerte dentro de la vida 

Siguen creciendo, 

Generando vida de la fuente de la vida. 

Se genera una enciclopedia de la vida.” *


En mi práctica de hoy inicié viendo (¿o siendo?) los ojos de un muerto muy querido, abiertos con la eternidad entera en ellos cuando todo parecía ya terminado en este mundo. De alguna manera, y con ese punto de partida escabroso, esperaba un acto de remembranza dolorosa pero no lo fue. Mi movimiento interno fluyó directo a la vida con mucho juego y placer; en este caso, y siguiendo la palabras del maestro, fue la alegría la que absorbió el camino del entrenamiento de hoy.

Sí, su autobiografía es críptica, con tintes poéticos; tal vez haya sido así por su imposibilidad de expresar claramente sus ideas en un mundo que estuvo cultivando, en la búsqueda de la luz, dentro de la confusión y la oscuridad del Universo.

La poesía como el ensueño creativo (ensueño cósmico diría Bachelard) son parte intrínseca del Butoh de Kazuo Ohno, sus preguntas son las preguntas que sólo un filósofo poeta podría hacerse.





*(Extractos de la autobiografía de Kazuo Ohno en “Kazuo Ohno, el último emperador de la danza” de Gustavo Collini.)
Fotografía: Pintura al óleo con Kazuo Ohno en su última convalecencia. Pintor Atsushi Suwa
(Estos textos son parte de mi bitácora de trabajo de entrenamiento diario. En mi estudio los escribo a partir de lo que leo, recuerdo y exploro; en donde la filosofía de la vida y la práctica del arte me mantienen a flote en el proceso de creación de una personal concepción práctica del Butoh.)

#Butoh #KazuoOhno #muerte #técnicadeButoh #poesía #filosofíadelButoh