"The best thing someone can say to me is that while watching my performance they began to cry. It is not important to understand what I am doing, perhaps it is better if they don't understand, but just to respond to... [more]
"The best thing someone can say to me is that while watching my performance they began to cry. It is not important to understand what I am doing, perhaps it is better if they don't understand, but just to respond to the dance." Kazuo Ohno did not begin performing or choreographing dance until the age of 43. In Proustian fashion, he waited until he had the inspiration and life experience to fill a thousand voids. Ohno's stage presence is best described as multitudinous. The many ghosts of his life rally around him and conjure the dances that come out of his old, complex, experienced body.
Born in 1906 in Hokkaido, Japan, Kazuo Ohno taught physical education for 46 years. He began studying dance in the 1930s out of an interest in bringing dance into the school's curriculum. This occupational interest in dance led Ohno to discover German Expressionists Mary Wigman and Harold Kreutzberg, whose work would shape his aesthetic and change his life path. Ohno often refers in particular to Wigman's "Witch Dance" as a dramatic influence. In 1956, Ohno began to work with the late Tatsumi Hijikata -- together they bore Butoh, Japan's avant-garde "dance of utter darkness."
Early Butoh was inspired by everything from the Beatles to French radical intellectual texts (many had only recently been translated into Japanese). The dances ended up having more in common with the "Happenings" in the West than with anything that had yet transpired in the history of Japanese theater or dance. Butoh was an angry, post-war depiction of despair and grief. After splitting with Hijikata in 1968, Kazuo Ohno embarked on the long, strange trip of solo dance.
To witness Ohno's dances is to witness singular, fearless, shameless art -- essential Butoh. Among his better known dances are "My Mother" (1981), in which he morphs into mother, fetus, child, and mourner, and "Admiring La Argentina" (1977), one of his many hero-worship pieces that transforms the stage into a wardrobe trunk full of real and fictional characters. Wherever he is on this wheel of life and death, Kazuo Ohno remains a joyous visionary basking in the dusk of his 90s.