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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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Be a doctor

 

Kazuo Ohno: “On coming off stage I feel much better than before I go on. Before I complain of a backache, or a sore neck, but these all seem to disappear once I step out on stage, it’s like a panacea for all my pains and woes because body and soul move unite and move as one, this bring joy and comfort to the audience and moves them in a meaningful way. In this sense, dance act as a doctor for both performer and spectator. It’s like a cure-all for our ailments. It fully revitalizes me.”

 

Jerzy Grotowski said that one of the origins of our profession is the “shaman”, that magician-doctor that performs in front of the sick with the goal of healing the body and soul. 

It is also a common idea among our profession (performing arts) this healing process during acting or dancing or singing, and it is possible that the cerebral state we reach during our performing involves the liberation of substances related to different processes of self-healing, or at least some kind of sedatives like the body liberates during rituals or trances.

It is interesting that Kazuo Ohno felt the same way just because dancing with the idea of doing it with body and soul united. What it is perhaps more interesting for me is that he says that the result of this union of dancing with body and soul together “brings joy and comfort to the audience and moves them in a meaningful way”. It is where the performer and the doctor-magician mixed together. Here, we find a technique of “projection” on stage in Kazuo’s Butoh, to reach the spectator without thinking on it, -just as the movement coming from the inner impulse-. If we work/dance with our body and soul united then the result will inevitably be healing and touching, to our selves and to the spectators. What else do we want? 

 

Training

Keeping it simple I’ve only worked with the idea of unite body and soul: listening always music in a random way I started from breathing imagining being impulsed to movement, then to walking, then reaching different levels between the sky and the earth. Probably didn’t think more about body and soul, but the initial idea was working in every moment. After some time entered very in contact with my inner lines of movement forgetting probably the breathing part, because now images were taking part of as basic elements of the impulse. Images were sprouting inside and outside the body, following the music, the rhythm of images following the rhythm of the music, until realizing I was doing some kind of free improvisation.

I didn’t have spectators and I didn’t have any ache before starting my training, so I couldn’t say that Kazuo’s technique worked, but I know I felt good, satisfied, and in some way better. I’ll have to wait till that moment I expose myself on stage to the public again, and probably, during my Butoh, I’ll become not only the healer but the healed too. Then Nietzsche, the great, will be brought to live and say: here you are, the poet and the reader united has reborn again.