There's a conspicuous ineffability surrounding Butoh. Sure, there are plenty of historical claims: it was begun in 1959 Japan by the likes of Tatsumi Hijikata, Kazuo Ohno, and Akira Kasai, among others; the first Butoh performance was Hijikata's interpretation of a... [more]
There's a conspicuous ineffability surrounding Butoh. Sure, there are plenty of historical claims: it was begun in 1959 Japan by the likes of Tatsumi Hijikata, Kazuo Ohno, and Akira Kasai, among others; the first Butoh performance was Hijikata's interpretation of a piece of Yukio Mishima's writing and involved faux fornication with a chicken; Butoh was conceived as self-consciously avant-garde, inspired by the work of Fluxus artists, Surrealists, and Dadaists. But none of this speaks to the formal qualities of Butoh; nor do any of these historical anecdotes tell us of the Butoh experience.
What informs and motivates Butoh is precisely the logic of experience, of the event. Butoh cannot be spoken because it is that which happens within the silences of noise, within the spaces of the world. Where Artaud discovered a manic event at the heart of the universe, Butoh discovers a poised silence. Often, there's no music; the set is spare. This no "Swan Lake." The dancers rid themselves of the familiar trappings of clothes; they even rid themselves of their nakedness by wearing white make-up. The result is that their bodies - and the stage - become bare markers, receptors for what the world might bring, for what their bodies might whisper (or scream or mumble or mutter). There's a certain ever-readiness, a keen attentiveness, in the Butoh stance: the dancer moves with purpose, according to hidden or obscured dictates, according to the demands of the body in the world, according to the world as it emerges as pure force.
The Butoh dancer remains close to the ground with a low center of gravity, poised for the world's unfurling. As their stripped bodies engage the undulations of the universe, the Butoh dancers join the fray and, through their movements, speak the world's very occurrence. American Butoh dancer Ralph Rosenfield tells this revealing story of Butoh performer, Min Tanaka: "He once traveled the entire length of Japan, dancing once each day, sometimes even more. His idea was to feel the difference in the ground at different places. He improvised and called the experiment Hyperdance. He said, "I dance not in the place, the dance [is] the place". Butoh, then, is not about composition but experience: it occurs -- but not in the frenzy of catastrophe. No, Butoh is an expression of poise. And poise is an odd stance, at once absolutely balanced and absolutely attentive; poise is both self-grounded and anticipatory of anything that might happen. Butoh is defined by the slow tension of the now, the calm of a universe inevitably unfolding, poised to live the odd rumblings of the universe.