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A Butoh Introduction Class -YOSHITO OHNO’S BUTOH OPEN CLASS IN MONTREAL (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).

If last April I had traveled to Yokohama with fears of exposure to nuclear radiation from Fukushima plant, why not face Montreal’s cold autumn this time? Master Yoshito Ohno had told me he’d come to Canada in November this year to perform “In Between” with Lucie Gregoire, a French Canadian contemporary dancer, as part of a trilogy they both have been creating since 2007. My experience in Yokohama had been crucial in my artistic path, so I did not hesitate at any point in going to see the show and if possible take a few more sessions, and so I went.

Two days before his performance, Yoshito Ohno’d gave an open Butoh class for students at LADMMI, L’École de Danse Contemporaine. It would be a class for students, yes, but some interested outsiders were admitted.

LADMMI is part of an art schools complex very close to the Place des Arts de Montreal, but independent from it, in one of the main shopping streets, Sainte Catherine. The building, in a forties style, has been remodeled to host art and dance schools and work spaces for everything having to do with bodywork and design; LADMMI is on the third floor and you can take a look from the street itself while some of the classes are happening.

The wait was long, since I had to be there early to make sure I was included among those coming from outside (in the end, we were only three outsiders). So that gave me time to wander around Sainte Catherine, observe some classes at the dance school and eventually discover the difference between my view of Butoh and that of a school of contemporary dance. Obviously, for the dance school, Butoh is a complement to the training of its dancers and, possibly, a way to develop a style in dance. For me, right now, Butoh is a performing art in itself.

Yoshito Ohno arrived with his wife, a translator, Lucie Grégoire and the school principal; we were waiting for him, among a huge mass of students with different levels of training. Lucie apparently had transmitted some knowledge of Butoh to her groups at the school, but not all of those students had had contact with Ohno’s discipline.

Master Ohno, obviously, didn’t remember who I was.  He finally did it when I mentioned April, that I was Mexican and that I had taken his workshop in Yokohama.  These are the curiosities of certain re-encounters, which I enjoy a lot.

I guessed Master Ohno would repeat most of his common exercises: the flower, the prayer, working with silk, etc. But the presence of dance students made me think I’d experience a kind of pedagogy of Butoh I did not know till that moment, a Butoh introductory class; and that was what he did.

It was an interesting class as a reminder of the rules of this art form in the way Yoshito Ohno sees Butoh, and also an example of teaching people these basics without having previous contact with Butoh.

Posture

The first thing Ohno (with help from the French translator) said was that we should understand the Japanese characters of man, heaven and earth, to identify our body as in the middle of two forces. He emphasized the image of a line passing through the center of the body to the crown and pulling us up, while the feet were “roots” that pull towards the earth. The chin pointing down and our gaze forward. With that posture, we were to walk. “Amazing Grace” was the first piece of music we worked with in this class.

He made a special comment about the hands; he spoke of the strength of the hands and fingers to remain together, with minimal separation. Then he took the idea of how those hands, that position, the chin down and the line between heaven and earth, were a hell to reach a presence on stage, a link between opposing forces.

We made several physical exercises as if pulling something and feeling the force, and then returning to the position and perceiving this new presence in us. This set of physical tensions initially left in us energy moving within us, and when standing, doing nothing, our body energy was charged without movement, what we call presence on stage.

The flower

In a case he had brought to the studio, master Ohno had flowers for all, a lot of scented, artificial flowers. Then he spoke of the flower as the best example of what is standing between heaven and earth, in complete union. He asked us to move with the flowers.  At some point he talked about being the flower, but did not elaborate on it. And we moved along with the music towards our flowers.

He asked us to carry the flower as if we were wind, and at the sound of our steps he asked us not to make noise, even when walking quickly, giving an example by doing it himself, saying there was no need to disturb the viewer’s attention from our objective; our steps then followed the flower in the wind.

He told us how, early in his career, asked his father, Kazuo Ohno, to teach him to dance, and he replied giving him a flower and saying, “look, you don’t have to learn to dance, just seek to be a flower. Move with the flower. Do this every day; one day you will feel that you are that flower and will not need to have it in your hand any more.”

The silk

Similarly, he took out from his case several small pieces of silk and gave them to us; each of us began to work with the idea of the strength and softness of silk, the strength and softness of our body. Moving from one state to another depending on the piece of silk we were stretching in our hands. That was our body and our interior; when strong, before stretching, as an adult, it was tense; as it stretched, it became soft, like a child asking for his mother.

As we were working on the technical aspects of the performance, he took from his bag Hokusai’s painting “The Wave”.  And he tried to explain the idea emanated from the painting: the artist, who has a different view of things, can see far away and can see up close, like an insect. We had to represent that in order to move, we had to find different views of our work. There was a technical search, but we had to feel the technical work too.

The piece of cloth

He gave each of us a piece of cloth, and we began to squeeze  at the same time that our bodies squeezed, twisting with the piece of cloth. It was tension by stress, and the feeling of the texture of the fabric was to guide us in our squeezing movement, we had to work those points as the source of our movement and whatever came of it.

He made short mention of his theory of “forte pianissimo”, where the most complicated thing for the butokah is not to exploit but to maintain the strength of a possible explosion within while moving gently or slowly.

Squeezing the fabric was his way of addressing the “forte pianissimo” idea while moving.

The tissue

Then he showed us the image of the wooden sculpture of the Buddha of Nara. He showed the same photo he had in his studio in Yokohama as part of a calendar.  Master Ohno made us note the sculpture’s hands, hands that are never fully attached but are together within a separation the width of a sheet of paper.

He then offered us each a sheet of tissue paper and talked about the meeting of these hands together but separated, the same for our knees, and our arms in contact with the torso. 

We practiced with that tissue paper for a while, but then he interrupted our work and asked us to add a pray to our movement; without further explanation besides saying that it wasn’t a religious thing, but a personal prayer, internal.

The music played for the final movement was the “Ave Maria” by Schubert, which his father always used in training and was the background music of one of his most famous pieces on the scene dedicated to his mother.

Farewell

At that moment, the time allotted for our class had run out and had to stop. Without saying more, Yoshito Ohno thanked us, saying that all the objects we worked with that day were a gift and we could keep them and should use them daily in our training; then he said goodbye. We all applauded to him, we were at a dance school and this is the way dance students are used to thank to their teachers.

Although Yokohama left me a profound and enlightening experience about Butoh, about its origins and technique, with this short open class in Montreal I discovered (or confirmed), from my point of view, the basis of the pedagogy of Yoshito Ohno for Butoh.  

Now I also had something really tangible, physical, to support my daily training, a support as simple as an artificial flower, a piece of silk, a cloth and a small tissue. They will remind me, while working every day with them as physical objects, every of Yoshito’s words, and those meaningful objects will be witnesses of my own development.

The performance Yoshito Ohno gave in Montreal together with Lucie Grégoire, “In Between”, will be part of another post.

(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).

A secret: The entire universe is in the space between your hands. -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).

Yoshito Ohno drinking tea at his studio after his workshop session. (Yokohama, Japan. Gustavo Thomas © 2011)

As you pray (while we pray in motion) gather your hands .-
And the hands lead us, thinking about what we are praying, seeing it, dancing.
Yoshito stops and, approaching us, says: – A secret!
He takes the page of a large photo book and shows it to us:
Nara, a beautiful city, a very old and important Japanese city. There are many Buddhas there but one of them is special; this Buddha is special, look…-
Then he brings the photo of the Buddha closer to us…

What’s special about it?

Cover of Buddha of Nara Photo Book showing us “the space between the hands” at Yoshito Ohno studio. (Yokohama, Japan. Gustavo Thomas © 2011)

Look at his hands … They don’t come together; there is a minimal separation in between, barely a rice-paper fits in between them.  There is not another one like it in all Nara. That makes it very special. Everything is compressed between his hands; it is powerful. Kazuo Ohno knew that; it is a secret … 
He looks at us, smiling and thoughtful, at each and every one of us around …
Pray with your hands together and feel a separation the width of rice-paper.

The space between our hands contains the whole universe…


And our hands worked with that separation, and we moved with Maria Callas and Anthony singing in the background. In later sessions we used a handkerchief. That separation could be not only in our hands, but between our knees, as a young and caring woman, and you could also feel that paper between the arms and trunk, between the feet and the ground as the walk of a Japanese Noh master.


Yoshito Ohno shows all while speaking: he is the Buddha of Nara, he is the beautiful and shy teen who walks with a minimal separation between her knees, he is Kazuo Ohno when he performed a woman and his arms barely touched the flanks of his trunk and he is also a walker on rice paper.  He continually separates from us and takes a few steps with his hands almost joined together and raising them to heaven. He doesn’t pretend to be a role model, it is just that he must inevitably move as he speaks.

Yoshito Ohno and part of the group dancing with the rice-paper between their hands. (Yokohama, Japan. Gustavo Thomas © 2011)

Yes, his sessions are full of little and big secrets about Butoh, on how to achieve the inner strength of our movement:

Pay attention to your back, as if it spoke;– a direct encounter with the whole of the space, with its corners, the front, the back, the up and down; thanking the space…

Know where to land your gaze while walking; if you look down you always seems sad, it is better to look neutrally forward, openly.

We “move” every secret, we explore every secret, we practice, without further instructions, without judgement.


The examples to reveal the secrets each are given, as always happens in his workshop, with the remembrance of passages from the two great masters of Butoh, Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata, but also with simple drawings: geometric patterns to discover the different displacements of our body in space, or Chinese characters (Japanese writing originated in, and retains the use of, Chinese characters) on the body, on man, on day. He talks while drawing, he shows us each drawing he makes, he lets us touch it and review it.

The showing of a palpable example when mentioning every secret functions as an inspiration pivot, as a guide beyond than words or formal instructing; at the end every secret comes to us through an internal image that is created from listening to him, seeing him move, looking at a picture or touching an object. We did it, as I’ll talk about in the next post, touching flowers, touching silk, touching bamboo, touching plastic balls…

Zen circle image at Yoshito Ohno studio. (Yokohama, Japan. Gustavo Thomas © 2011)

That painting, so simple, known as the “Zen circle” is one of the biggest inspirations for the discovery of the body in motion as a circle, as a whole, as philosophy on scene. Yoshito tells us that his father was also a philosopher and that he philosophized on stage through Butoh, and that one of the inspirations for philosophizing while moving was that image of the circle drawn by a Zen monk, a circle that clearly doesn’t close but which we know includes everything. Kazuo Ohno was not Buddhist but he was a sensitive, religious man, wherever he found inspiration he stopped and moved.


That circle is explored everywhere, be it in the space, be it inside and outside the body, be it with our hands. The hands that emanate from the circle itself, those hands that he tells as waterfalls of force surging from Hijikata. Hands are the holders of the circle that is a sphere, the moon. Yoshito asks us to look at the moon, to feel the moon and see it as a manifestation of that zen circle, and the sphere. Our hands can touch the moon, take it, split it into two, move with it, with its strength, with its attraction, with its poetry.

Moving with the spheres on each hand. (Yokohama, Japan. Gustavo Thomas © 2011)

Several sessions with a number of spheres; inner images that move us, and that make us philosophize without thinking, while moving … How can one philosophize without thinking? I never asked myself that question while working … Perhaps there was also another secret.


Those secrets and that philosophizing cause a change in others, teacher Yoshito Ohno tells us. For years people around the world came to the workshop of his father, they listened to him speak, watched him move, moved with him and then something happened, they changed, their life changed. Kazuo Ohno had the force to change others through their own secrets unveiled at each session (secrets that no one could decipher or explain), explored through the philosophical or poetic or surreal movement of Butoh. 

After a few sessions, those visitors changed the paths of their creativity and, in many cases, their very lives.

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.

IN MY SECOND YEAR , MY LIFE BEGAN TO DANCE AGAIN (2019 YEAR’S REVIEW)

I know – if you are not like me – it could be tiring to do this, but the action of making sense of the past throughout a continual revision is, for me, of the same importance as planning the future. So, I’m doing this.

After a 2018 full of attempts and a few successes (The Year I Left Behind), the year that’s just ended was full of creative work and presentations, full of achievements.

January

I received a photograph, taken in the nineties in Mexico City when I was working in “Escenologí­a”, a performing arts research institute and publishing house directed by researcher Edgar Ceballos, where my dreams of being part of a theatre company that provided the group atmosphere and creativity inspired by Jerzy Grotowski’s and the Odin Teatret’s work were almost realized. What I did achieve during those years was a very powerful and deep technical and ethical education coming from many sources linked to Grotowski and The Odin Teatret (we worked with Eugenio Barba, Julia Varley and Roberta Carrieri, just to name a few), but especially our principal and main training coach, Jaime Soriano, himself a direct disciple and collaborator with Grotowski. The contact with the different researchers Edgar Ceballos was meeting and publishing (in books and magazines) gave me, of course, a performing arts culture I was dreaming to have. Watching these photos pushed me to address the problems of working in Guangzhou; this energy and impulse came directly from the source, no doubt about it.

These are two different photographs, both with the same spirit I was talking before: one, a general photo taken when Teatro Potlach came to Escenologí­a to have a look at our work and give us some feedback; the second one, taken during the rehearsal of a piece we never premiered. Of course, the photos are cropped a bit so you can see me better.

January/February/March

Japan again!

I was expecting this moment since 2014. I had saved enough money (Japan is super expensive) for the flight, accommodation, food and fees. I was close to Tokyo (Guangzhou is less than 4 hours away by plane). I really needed to see master Yoshito Ohno and dance with him again at the Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio. And I wanted to get in touch again with all the other masters that are working in Tokyo: the great Natsu Nakajima, Yuri and Seisaku (there I had the opportunity to meet and train with Yumiko Yushioka), and Kudo Taketeru. I had the chance to have a basic workshop with Takao Kawaguchi about his experience with “About Kazuo Ohno”, and a surprisingly interesting class with two colleagues from Yoshito’s workshops, Mutsumi and Neiro.

My goal was to have a total immersion in the current Japanese Butoh world, and you bet I did. I took lessons almost every day (sometimes two different classes in different parts of the city or between two cities in one day) from the end of January till the beginning of March. I went to see dozens of performances, listening to conferences and talks, homages, exhibitions, and I even paid two visits to the Hijikata Butoh Institute at Keiko University where researcher Takashi Morishita gave me all the facilities to feel in that place like in my own personal library. One day, on my way to the Hijikata Institute, I passed by an area of old bookshops, where I found a good edition of the book “Ba-ra-kei: Ordeal by Roses” by photographer Eiko Hosoe, with images of Yukio Mishima –  both very important figures for Butoh in Japan.

My last day I interviewed Master Yoshito Ohno about his work life and his ideas of an uncertain future after his heart attack, which partially paralyzed his body.

At the moment I was writing this year’s revision I learned that – exactly one year after this visit to Japan – master Yoshito Ohno, the dancer who with Tatsumi Hijikata gave the first Butoh performance in history, son of the great Kazuo Ohno, has passed away. I am sad and I have a terrible feeling of being lost. I know that, little by little I will only feel thankful for all that I learned by listening to him and dancing with him. My thoughts and love are with his wife, his daughter Keiko and all the Ohno family, as well as with my colleagues, friends and people close to the Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio.

My life in Japan literally nourished on Butoh.

Of course, I cannot show here my whole experience in Japan, but these photographs will help me share part of it. Also, there are many other posts in this blog about my experiences during that trip:

March

March came with a surprise trip to Mongolia. I probably don’t have much to say about me and Butoh during this trip, but there was a lot about this culture I’ve always been interested in, especially its throat singing and the shamanism of the north of the country. Both (throat singing and shamanism) are very much the source of performing arts as a biological body in performance

The highlight of that trip was a shamanistic ritual on frozen Khövsgöl Lake. You can read about my whole experience in the post I dedicated to it. (link)

In Ulaanbaatar I went to listen to throat singing at a very tourist-oriented performance. Nevertheless, the technique was there and it was spectacular. I was also lucky that, during a camel festival in the south, in the village of Bulgam Sum, in the Gobi desert, I got to listen to some villagers singing some improvised traditional chants in an ankle bones match. You can listen to part of the chanting by following this link: https://soundcloud.com/gustavo-thomas-teatro/canto-y-juego-gobi-mongolia-2019

April

While I was preparing two Butoh pieces and one photography exhibition for June, I went to see one of China’s iconic natural marvels, staying at Jima village, near the city of Yangshuo in the the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. There I did two interesting improvisations with incredible natural settings as background. Sunsets those days were spectacular, so I timed one of those improvisations to happen as the sun set. I can say it was magical, because it really was.

May

In May I devoted myself to the creative process of the performances and the photo exhibition, and also added the task of transcribing the recorded interview I did to master Yoshito Ohno and then translating it to Spanish. While doing some research on Yoshito Ohno, I found some other interviews and materials of his autobiography that helped me understand the important role this man has played in the creation and promotion of Butoh since the very beginning. I started posting some of those findings as quotations and commentaries on my own personal experience of training at his side.

June

The Mexican Consulate made good on its promise and offered me its events hall once more to show the second phase of my photo-performance project “Pride, Chinese Style”, which this time I called “Qipao, A Gender Game”. Like the year before, my collaboration took place during the LGTBQ Film Festival different consulates in Guangzhou organize. My performance and the photography exhibition were in fact the opening to one of the film screenings. This second phase gave me the opportunity to work again with Wing (Ho Hoiwing, en mandarín He Hairong, 河海荣), this time as male model wearing a qipao, stepping up from documentary photography to a stage concept: what’s the fuzz when a man wears a women’s iconic dress? The results were pretty good, I think, and the reaction of the people who attended was fantastic.

The photo-gallery shows first the photographs I showed at the exhibition, and then the photos of the performance at the consulate.

July

As you probably already know, LGTBQ public activities are prohibited in China. That’s why it was only possible to show my project “Pride Chinese Style” inside of a foreign consulate in Guangzhou. I was advised that it was possible to present my exhibition and performance outside the consulates if I announce it as a private event without an open public publicity or ticket sale. So, I did it. This second presentation of Qipao, A Gender Game was at Jueyuan 1985, a beautiful 1920s brick house in the historical neighborhood of Dongshankou. The performance was a little different from the first show at the Mexican Consulate, Wing and Atta (my model and the one of the dancer directors of the Tango house) participated mixing their Tango with my Butoh. I was lucky that a good photographer was there to take these beautiful documents of that night.

August

Invited by Jasmine, an enthusiastic Chinese woman who owns a few independent venues in Guangzhou, to do a performance at her Café Theatre “Zhile” (知乐), I started my new project (at that moment, I was envisioning one called “Study of the Properties of Water”). I worked on my own and also had some meetings with Michael Garza, a friend and United States bassoonist who plays for the Guangzhou Symphonic Orchestra. I had to put a brief pause on that work to make a trip to the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, to an area close to the borders with Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and home to one of the most culturally vigorous – yet politically conflicted – Muslim minorities in China, the Uyghurs. The region is known also for its amazing natural beauties. On my way from Tashkorgan to Kashgar, near the lake Bulungkul, I did a short improvised performance with a background of amazing icy blue waters and enormous white sand dunes and snow-capped mountains.

August/September

Michael Garza and me decided to apply ourselves to the creative process during all of September and up to our presentation, after the National Day holidays. I decided to fuse together two projects, “Study of the Properties of Water” and “The Passing of Time”, and this was the long final name of the work. Michael worked on 10 very powerful pieces for bassoon, some classics, some by contemporary Asian composers, while I worked on my inner story with inspiration coming from paintings of different states of water by Chinese Sung dynasty painter Ma Yuan and the idea/impulse of time passing inside my body.

Here you have some documents about that intense creative process.

October

“Study of the Properties of Water and the Passing of Time” was performed at Zhile Art Space in Ersha Island, Guangzhou. Our 50 minute-long bassoon and Butoh performance was done before a full house and with what I can say great success. The attention and response of the public was deep and emotional, and the Q&A session afterwards passionate. I totally loved the experience.

The photographs were taken by several of the spectators present.

November

At long last! “Languid Bodies”, my Butoh and Video piece created in Mexico City in 2014 together with video artist Omar Ramírez. With one failed attempt in 2018 (when the show was cancelled by the police an hour before the performance due to a misperception of its content), in November 2019 I presented it at the Mexican Consulate as part of the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination Violence against Women. Undoubtedly, no context would have been more ideal for this kind of piece.

The events hall of the Mexican Consulate is not a theatre in a proper sense, but I managed to transform it into a very basic stage, with some unavoidable visibility problems. The public was a mix of foreigners and Chinese. It made me happy that the video created by Omar, even though projected in a small format, made a very strong impression in the public and was well appreciated and even put at the same level of relevance as the Butoh piece itself. I’m personally very fond of this work and I felt more than blessed by the response to it here in China.

December

After an invitation by Jasmine, the manager at Zhile Art Space, to participate at the Guangzhou Outdoor Arts Festival (lucky me!), I created “Masks”, a 50-minute Butoh and physical theatre performance. The GOA Festival 2019 attracted hundreds of spectators every day during all December, and the day of my presentation was no exception. I was afraid to face the monster, but that was no monster, it was a beautiful creature, attentive and open to be touched.

The night after the performance I wrote:

Deeply satisfied with Masks’ presentation yesterday night at the GOA festival in Guangzhou. A very special outdoor setting, I would say spectacular. A huge audience (something like 400 people), attentive and with great response to my work. It was broadcast online throughout China on two different channels and, from what I know about just one of those channels, more than 4000 people were watching the performance.

 Also, there was even a Korean artist among the public that drew what she saw during the performance.

I’m so grateful to Jasmine, my favourite Chinese producer, and to AG, the director of the GOA Festival, who believed in my work. I feel I’m a very lucky person.

And the festival article reviewing the performance was very kind to me:

“来自墨西哥,目前驻地在广州的舞踏艺术家 Gustavo Thomas(古斯塔沃·托马斯)此次上演的舞踏作品《面具》,是他专门为 GOA 创作的全新作品。艺术家神秘而具有浓厚跨文化色彩的演出令在场市民目不转睛,从孩童到大人,皆为他的作品献上了热烈掌声。”

Mexican Butoh artist Gustavo Thomas, who currently resides in Guangzhou, presented the piece “Masks”, created by him specifically for GOA. The artist’s mysterious and strong cross-cultural performance firmly held the attention of those present, from children to adults. His piece received enthusiastic applause.

The year ahead is – as is usual in my life – unpredictable, but I’m feeling that I’m learning (and starting to use what I’ve learned) to work in a very unpredictable surrounding. I have at least three projects in the making and some collaborations with other artists.

We’ll see what happens…

Qipao, A Gender Game (A Photoperformance in Guangzhou, China)

It’s been a year since I presented the first phase of my photoperformance project “Pride Chinese Style” and it came the opportunity to show the advances of the second phase, exactly during the same event I did last year, the LGTBQ festival around the consulates in Guangzhou. As you may know, there is no way to have any event directed to the LGTBQ community in Guangzhou because is considered illegal by the Chinese government, so the only way the LGTBQ community has found is through the foreign representations in the city, including, proudly, the Mexican Consulate which has been very supportive in all events around gender equality.

This time I’ve been working around a quintessentially Chinese dress, Qipao or Cheongsam (as it is called in Cantonese), which has become a symbol of femininity in China and beyond, and then I play a simple gender twist: it is not a woman but a man who’s wearing the qipao, not as a drag but mostly as a man using proudly a dress directed to dress only women.

This phase of the project is not a documental idea of the queer community in Guangzhou, as I intended in the first one, but more into an staging, a creative game with a very simple subject. You’ll be the judge, but more than that I hope you experience this as public, putting in mind the social moment China is living right now.

“Qipao, A Gender Game” is structured in two parts: the photo exhibition and the Butoh and dance performance, but little by little I’ve been mixing both, be during the photoshoots or even during the presentations.

The first show of this second phase will be at the Mexican Consulate in Guangzhou next June 12th, 2019, ti will be there during all the month and later will move to another venue to confirm yet.

Here you hace some of the documents around. Of course you can find much more on the Website of the project: Pride Chinese Style

About the Butoh work…

(All photographs by Gustavo Thomas and Xu Shenghua)

Unconscious body

(Natsu Nakajima’s Butoh Workshop)

My second session of Butoh was at Natsu Nakajima’s Workshop in Yotsuya near Shinjuku.

She is now a legend of Butoh of course, and she’s still very active in her seventies doing work with handicapped people, body therapies and of course Butoh.

I met Natsu only once in my last visit to Japan, but I remember very well her work and I really wanted to take more lessons with her, and of course I was not disappointed at all. 

The workshop takes place at a subterranean gallery inside a large community centre. She didn’t remember me, but she was aware of my visit thanks to Lola Lince who sent her a message telling her about me. They both should be very close because Natsu really took care of me during the workshop and appreciate that. 

The structure of today’s session was very simple: first, therapeutic massage in couples and some breathing exercises; then the Butoh work goes on. 

Natsu talked about the use of the unconscious body, not as a goal in Butoh, but as a medium. So, every time we did an improvisation the goal was letting go the movement, first with breathing, then with music, with voice. 

We also did an exercise coming from modern dance technique (secrets of the work of Kazuo Ohno she said): following the music one dancer lets go the movement but this time taking care of rhythm and tempo and trying to find through improvisation a personal choreography, while other performer follows his/her lead, getting inspiration of that leading movement and trying to imitate the other. Not to think, but following the other.

Finally we were ready to do it in group, using everything we found during the session working with two very different styles of music, but doing with the second music the same movements (improvised choreography) we found in the first. 

Natsu recalled some words by Hijikata, something like “dancing in a group cuts the head”.

Of course I felt liberated, even with the technical difficulty that brought the modern dance technique exercise. 

Natsu Nakajima doing a demostration of one exercise.

You know? There is a strange feeling that this is a very simple work, but thinking about what I did today, it could not happen without all the wisdom and work history of a great guide and teacher like Natsu Nakajima. She actually made it simple, but it wasn’t it at all.

No doubt I’ll make the effort to come every week till the end of my stay in Japan. 

Next workshop? This Sunday with my dear Butoh teacher, Yoshito Ohno. 

(Friday January 26th, 2019)

The cry of the newborn

 

Journal of my Butoh training week

(Last week of August)

 

Kazuo Ohno:

“Naturally, the older I grow, the more experienced I become. My body can’t stay still. There’s no point denying that as we grow older, our bodies gradually wither away. Yet, irrespective of our physical state, life is ever present. That’s why I believe it essential that dance reflects the reality of ageing. All and well for younger performers to dwell upon the physical aspects of dance, but for older performers the spiritual aspect dominates. With a minimum of physical exertion, we can sustain ourselves until the very end. At a younger age we don’t need to concern ourselves with that reality, but we should be mindful of it. The essential thing is that dance embody the cry of the newborn, this comes about with repeated training and discipline. A mother’s love for her child manifests itself without the slightest thought. Younger dancers need to realise that. By concentrating only on the technical aspects, their dance will not engage us. Dance has to confront us with the question: Why are we here? If we stifle our feelings, we won’t get through to the audience. Crying plays a cathartic role. We should cry until we’ve shed all our tears so as to spiritually renew ourselves. I wonder the secret of health lies in our capacity to live life to the full. As I grow older, my dance evolves in a way that reflects this reality. My physical force is on the wane, my flesh slowly withers. I’m now experiencing things that I never did previously, with each and every step I’m learning something new and experience aspects of life that I didn’t in my younger years. It’s quite a revelation. In my youth, I had youthful passions, and so too in my later years. I’m not saying that one of them is better. They are essentially different. One has to embrace them accordingly, when young, one dances in a spring like way, as I reach the closing years of my life, my dance should convey the reality of my years, the older I get, the more my dance needs to embody the cry of the newborn. An elderly performer whose work doesn’t reflect this reality should give up.” (1)

 

So powerful words based in a more powerful and deep experiences! What can I do with this as a practical approach in my work?

Of course, at the beginning, the idea of embracing ageing was closer to me and I was aware of it during this week’s trainings, putting all my attention in my physical effort, in my physical pain, in my physical limits because of my age; but as the passing of the days I started to bring other texts and ideas while re-reading Kazuo’s words: “the cry of the new born” was then acquiring major importance, probably because it was action more than words, a closer physical image to any other of that speech.

In the video “Beauty and Strength: Kazuo Ohno” produced by the NHK, Kazuo Ohno decided to start with a peculiar scene: at his studio during one of his daily workshops he’s giving a speech on how dance should be like the cry of a baby that communicates in a primeval form with his mother. For that purpose he asked to bring one of his grandsons to the studio and let him play freely with Yoshito and him in a total improvised dance. The image is clarifying and powerful because we can see how the child is free in his behaviour with the two adults who are dancing but playing with him at the same time. It is a mix of improvised lively chaos and strong artistic structure. The scene itself could not be memorable, speaking in an artistic sense, if we don’t ask ourselves why Kazuo decided to start a video, produced by the NHK on his successful career, exactly with that improvisation, (even risking his position as a remarkable performer) if not because that was a concrete illustration of what Butoh and dance was to him, a real introduction fo all his work. There was no cry, but the point was clear to me.

I remember then that experience Eugenio Barba depicts in one of his texts about a horse brought to the stage in an almost forgettable play he was watching when he was a child, and how that incursion gave it an idea of total life in the middle of a dead stage full of actors. We all know that same feeling when a child is on the stage and steals all the professional work of the actors just because he/she is more alive, because he/she is not trying to do anything, he/she is there.

When I was at Kazuo Ohno Studio in Kamihoshikawa, Yoshito Ohno let me watch some family videos about Kazuo’s performances. One specially brought my attention: it was a performance Kazuo gave at a seniors care house. After one or two musical pieces dancing, wearing those characteristic old women dresses, I saw a moment of brightness (if I can say that), a moment that changed all my perception of what I was watching in that moment. Difficult to explain, the only thing is I can say is that it was if like a door was open at that moment and some energy or light come out from Kazuo’s body, moment that lasted for no more than two minutes I remember. Was that “the cry of the new born”? Now I believe it was, and also Barba’s horse and the child playing.

That moment is not a technique itself but an advice, it’s actually a research, a continuous research in our practice of Butoh. Like that moment of truth Peter Brook talks about when rehearsing (See his video “The rope”). The director and the actors should work and rehearse not because they have to repeat everything, but because they are waiting for the moment when life becomes action, when it comes out from the source, and everything we do on stage should be in a state of awareness to catch that moment.

My training then became, this week, a structure of physical movements, exercises, rehearsals of my inner choreographies, my art crafting, while waiting for that moment. My work only counts if I am aware of the real research, if I am aware of the moment I can be in communication with the cry of the newborn and be like a light, with the moment a horse enters to the scene stealing all the attention with his body full of life.

 

 

 

Main Image: © Kazuo Ohno Archive Network.
(1) Kazuo Ohno interviewed by the NHK, 1993.

El camino de los maestros muertos (el camino que me llevó al encuentro con el Butoh)

A principios de este 2018 apenas estaba por establecerme en Guangzhou, mi nueva ciudad, cuando Haydé Lachino me invitó a escribir un artículo para la revista que ella dirige en México, Interdanza, revista que se ha convertido en poco tiempo bajo la dirección de Haydé, en un referente de la danza en México, entre muchas razones por su profesionalismo y conocimiento y porque es un proyecto que financiado por el gobierno es totalmente gratuito y electrónico, es decir prácticamente al alcance de todos aquellos interesados en la danza.

La propuesta del artículo era sobre mi encuentro con el Butoh, y no podía caerme más a la mano, porque estoy en el proceso de crear mi primer texto teórico (personal) sobre la creación dentro del Butoh, así que una introducción como esta me fue de primordial importancia para definir las razones de mi interés y mi práctica dentro de esta disciplina que ahora ocupa la mayor parte de mi vida creativa.

Por supuesto que el artículo se lee en la revista misma publicada en el número 54 del mes de agosto de este año, a través de este link: El camino de los maestros muertos (Interdanza) pero quería, como siempre, hacerlo patente en mi blog como una exposición del documento mismo.

 

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