On 24th May 1959, Tatsumi Hijikata portrayed the character of the "Man" in the first presentation of a play called Kinjiki (Forbidden Colours).
The Ankoku Butoh was born, "dance of darkness" or, literally, "compulsive movements in the dark". It has often been written and said that this trend bloomed on the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One thing is certain: Japan, as a defeated country, should turn the page and protect the memory of the hundreds of thousands of dead buried beneath the rubble of these martyr cities. Hiroshima and Nagasaki inaugurated a new page in the history of mankind, no doubt one of the most sombre and alarming. And so, it was from the darkness that Butoh arose and the term Ankoku is there to remind us.
Only the intellectual spheres welcomed this radicalness with enthusiasm, and it was away from the Japanese borders that Butoh would gain its due reward.
Hosotan - Tatsumi Hijikata
For this performance, Tatsumi Hijikata underwent such a drastic fast to that he barely had any flesh on his bones, with his skin covered in rags of papier maché, almost ripped in parts. Hunched over, the dancer showed us a primitive body which took all of its energy from the pit of his stomach and, slowly, emerged from nothing to access self consciousness.
This body had affinities with the literature of Mishima, Hijikata put what Mishma wrote into bodies.
Butoh, just like the nation in which it was created, is the juncture point of two pathways.
Homage to the Argentina - Kazuo Ôno
As the second founder of Butoh, Kazuo Ôno moved the boundaries even further, with the famous solo Hommage à La Argentina choreographed by Tatsumi Hijikata, by establishing a direct relationship between the western aesthetic and Japanese aesthetic.
The strength of this choreography came from a simple, yet seemingly contradictory idea: by taking hold of an aesthetic which is not a priori their own, the dancer and choreographer seek to look inwards to "bring life to something new".
Hijikata gave Ôno a very simple instruction: "your arms no longer belong to you ". And this is effectively the case in the third scene, The Marriage of Heaven and Earth, where the dancer slowly reaches out to make an offering to the universe.
Iki, Edge - Ko Murobushi
In the Murobushi dance, as in that of his mentor Tatsumi Hijikata, the pulsating bubbling of life and the inevitability of death are at work, as if everything that the body knows, or used to know, is destined to disappear. This is about "not knowing", because in Butoh there is no useable language, contrary to classical or contemporary Western dances. The body, for Murobushi as for his predecessors, involves metaphysical questions and everything comes quite simply from the body's presence.
Waiting - Carlotta Ikeda
Carlotta Ikeda and Ko Murobushi mutually fuelled each other. In 1974, they both founded the Ariadone company, which is only for women.
In Waiting, a 1996 solo, Carlotta Ikeda’s apparently empty body is finally inhabited: dressed in a wedding dress, she seeks with her hands, and her fingers, this pleasure which resonates through her, the wave which animates her body to the point of meeting with space. The ebb and flow of birth and death are the primary motors of Butoh, which as underlined by Carlotta Ikeda, seeks to show the inside, this precise location where, internally, there is trembling.
Hibiki - Sankai Juku
Ushio Amagatsu and her company Sankai Juku question above all the balance between intimacy and universality, history and cosmology. On stage, the dancers and he himself seem to emerge often from an invisible world to enter into a dialogue with gravity.
In Hibiki, it is the relationship between sand and water which Amagatsu explores this time. The fluidity of bodies responds to the fluidity of elements, and although bodies are made up of bone and muscle, they appear to lack solidity. The living and primitive impulse which lives in the dancers, shared between tension and relaxation, evokes the incessant flow and return of the wave.
To go further :
In more depth
AMAGASTU, Ushio. Dialogue avec la Gravité, Arles : Actes Sud, DL 2000. 43 p. (Le Souffle de l'Esprit).
DE BRUYCKER, Daniel (dir.). Le Butô et ses Fantômes. Bruxelles : Alternatives Théâtrales, 1985 . 96 p.
DURIX, Claude. L'âme poétique du Japon. Paris : Les Belles Lettres, 2002. 191 p. (Architecture du verbe).
GINOT, Isabelle, MARCELLE, Michelle. La Danse au XXe siècle. Paris : Larousse, DL 2002. 263 p.
ROUSIER, Claire (dir.), DELARUELLE, Catherine. Danses et identités. Paris : Centre National de la Danse, impr. 2009, cop. 2009. 271 p. (Recherches).
A detour via the creations of Comte de Lautréamont, Jean Genet or Antonin Artaud (Le Théâtre de la Cruauté – Theater of Cruelty notably) can allow for better understanding of the movement at work with the Butoists. A glance towards German expressionism in dance (Mary Wigman, Kurt Jooss, Valeska Gert and their heir, Pina Bausch) will no doubt allow for parallels to be drawn between European and Japanese culture in the contemporary chorographical field.
Holder of an MA of Arts from the University of Bristol, Associate of English, Olivier Lefebvre is a dance historian, lecturer and editor. He collaborates, among other things, on the development of the online dance video library Numeridanse.tv as well as the lecture program of the Popular University in Normandy.
Texts and bibliography selection
Maison de la Danse
The "Butoh" Parcours was launched thanks to the support of General Secretariat of Ministries and Coordination of Cultural Policies for Innovation (SCPCI)