Sensei, the Master

(Yoshito Ohno’s Butoh workshop)

Today we danced during one hour and a half. 

Yoshito Ohno sensei gives some words as introduction, concepts and anecdotes around the history of Butoh, all as inspiration, as impulse, some accompanied by illustrations too (photos, paintings, Japanese characters,…). Then, with one or two pieces of music, we dance freely. 

Probably Yoshito Ohno’s Butoh workshop is the most singular you can find in Japan. Many could be lost there, many like me could just feel enormous joy. 

The work is physical but it is not based in physical exercises. It is philosophical, based in personal experiences and complete freedom. 

You stand still during a whole piece of music, look like an insect while walking with an eye in your back; you are also the full moon with all the group, reach the farest lands with your movement, and walk on the same path that Kazuo Ohno did; you suffer like the Virgin Mary and transform your body in the body of a naturally strong bamboo. 

There is no judgment, no pressure, like if art wasn’t there, but it is, for sure, all the time. 

¿Quality? He talks about quality in reference only to Tatsumi Hijikata or to Kazuo Ohno, not about our work.

Freedom and its philosophy open doors and windows inside each one of us during those improvised dances and almost everyone cry once. 

After four years without being there, I found an older man, an older teacher, with some problems to walk and speak, but doing what he has to do, guiding us through the wisdom he got with Butoh.

Kazuo Ohno, the divine, is still there at the studio, but that place today, I felt, it has already become Yoshito’s own place. It is the studio of Yoshito Ohno sensei, the master.

(Sunday, February 27th, 2019)

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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)

A tree.

(Butoh workshop with Yuri  Nagaoka and Seisaku)

My first Butoh experience of this season in Japan was at Yuri Nagaoka and Seisaku’s Butoh workshop near Nakano.

The work with them always follows the same structure. First Yuri guides a kind of physical workout that makes the function of a warming up with massages, stretching and lines of movement combining strenght, balance and fluidity; then comes the Butoh work directed by Seisaku: in a series of different exercises (improvisations based in a specific image) we follow a development of transformation through the images of a specific object, today is was a tree. 

Levels worked today:

-roots

-the nurturing from roots to the end of a branch

-the growing of the branches

-the first leaves

-the blossom

-and the tree alive after blossom with its expanded shape full of leaves.

Each level is worked physically from the image of inspiration in a very intricate way linked to our inner body. We are becoming that tree as a result, but not as a goal (at least not from the indications of Seisaku today).

It was surprising to find that Yumiko Yoshioka, the renowned Butoh performer, was there as a student too. I knew about her but never met her before, so I found that she is a very interesting woman and performer, very friendly and charming.

After the work I was more than happy to join them for a dinner at a very good Soba restaurant, and finally I took the subway with Yumiko chatting about Butoh and butohkas along the way. ¿What else could I ask for?

Tomorrow my plan is to take Natsu Nakajima’s workshop.

(Thursday, January 24th, 2019)

The Year I’ve Left Behind…

 

2018 was the year of a new China in my life. I came to live in China again, this time in Guangzhou. Surprisingly I found a very well developed and livable city, until the moment I wanted to create something. Living in an authoritarian society is not easy and I had a taste of it. Even though many things happened, I’m still here. So, I’ve done a short visual retrospective around my creative life in the year I’ve left behind:

 

– In March I did my first Butoh work in Guangzhou at a highway underpass in Ersha Island.

– In June I presented the first phase of my Photo-performance project “Pride Chinese Style” at the gallery of the Mexican Consulate in Guangzhou, with photographs and a performance mixing Tango and Butoh. We also gave a second performance in July.

The website of the whole project: https://gustavothomasteatr.wixsite.com/pridechinesestyle

– In July I started a Photo-performance project with my colleagues of “Humedad Expansiva” in Mexico City aimed for an audiovisual festival in November, doing a live streaming video Butoh performance from China to Mexico. We documented the first streaming transmitted from the South China Botanical Garden in Guangzhou. The project finally didn’t get the support from the Mexican government.

– In August an article I wrote about my encounter with Butoh and my first masters was published in the Mexican magazine Interdanza, thanks to the invitation of Haydé Lachino.

The link to the magazine number: https://archive.org/details/RevistaInterdanza54_201808/page/n13

-In August too I went to Java in Indonesia and performed two Butoh improvisations, one at some rice-field terraces and another one at Sewu, a Buddhist temple inside the Prambanan temple complex.

-In October I had everything ready for a series of performances of my Butoh work “Languid Bodies” at the Watermelon Theatre in Guangzhou, but the day of the first presentation the police arrived and closed the theatre, banning the performance. The reason? That it allegedly was an LGTBQ art work, and therefore not in accordance with China’s values. Even though they were mistaken and there was no LGBTQ content, there was nothing I could do to save the presentations. Luckily for me Chinese photographer Xu Shenghua was at the final rehearsal and documented my presence in Guangzhou through many amazing images.

The website of the work: https://gustavothomasteatr.wixsite.com/languidbodies

The website of the photographs taken by Xu Shenghua: https://gustavothomasbutohblog.wordpress.com/2018/11/30/photographies-shot-by-xu-shenghua-of-my-butoh-work-languid-bodies-in-guangzhou/

– Days later, also in October, I “escaped” to South Korea and performed three Butoh improvisations at marvelous Seoraksan National Park: One at the top of a mountain, one near a simple natural spot, and the third one at the Buddhist temple where I was staying.

– In November I continued my Photo-performance project in Guangzhou, this time with a photo session around the famous Cantonese dress known as Qipao or Cheongsam, posting the results of this exploration in the website of the project.

The webpage with this phase of the project: https://gustavothomasteatr.wixsite.com/pridechinesestyle/qipao

-Finally, in December I travelled to Sichuan Province’s Mount Emei, one Buddhism’s four sacred mountains in China, at which summit I performed a very simple photo Butoh session by some solitary corners of the main temple.

 

2019 looks mysterious to me, with hidden possibilities about what I may do in China with all the censorship around; but luckily, there are many other points of encounter around the world and some windows are bound to open for me. 

Photographies shot by Xu Shenghua of my Butoh work “Languid Bodies” in Guangzhou.

Even though last October 2018 my performances at The Watermelon Theatre in Guangzhou  were cancelled by the government (I cannot say exactly why yet), I had the good luck to have the photographer Xu Shenghua taking dozens of magnificent photographies with his Leica analogue camera at the last rehearsal.

I want to share all those photos in this Butoh blog.

Here you are.

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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