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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.
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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.

 

 

“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.

 

DOCUMENTS

 

Phase 1, Document, “Zhitong”

(Photographs for exhibition)

 

Phase 1, Document, “Tango Queer”

(Photographs for exhibtion)

 

Phase 1, Documents/ Butoh.

(Butoh performance preparation) *(1)

 

EXHIBITION AND PERFORMANCES

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

http://player.youku.com/player.php/sid/XMzY1MTczMzU2OA==/v.swf

http://player.youku.com/player.php/sid/XMzY1MTczMzU2OA==/v.swf

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:

http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMzYxODc0OTY4OA==.html?spm=a2hzp.8244740.0.0

 

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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