A comprehensive and detailed summary of the birth and history of butoh focusing on the interaction and individualities of its two founders. The origins of butoh, from its recasting of Kabuki and Noh and its rejection of Western balletic practices, the liberation of the body from a visual focus – how does this movement look – to an internal meditative practice – how does this movement feel, what does it express in and of itself – are all well explained, with plenty of excerpts from the writings and workshop words of Hijikata and Ohno.
The last chapter includes descriptions of working practices and theories of contemporary butohists, both Western and Japanese, showing how Hijikata’s and Ohno’s impetus has taken new directions, assimilated new forms. This testifies to the great strength of butoh as an idea and a practice: an art form that is at once a meditation on the relationship between the body, the mind, and the world.
The authors give detailed descriptions of some of the key performances in butoh history: from Kinjiki (1959) to Suiren (1987). The book is lavishly supplied with photographs of performances, a glossary of key terms (but do we really need to have avant garde explained to us?) and a useful bibliography. A chronology of Hijikata and Ohno’s performances would also have been useful.
Most valuable for its explication of butoh-fu and the role it has in the butoh world. Essentially scrapbooks of notes, haiku, images culled from art books, newspaper clippings, photographs, butoh-fu exists as a kind of notation whose job is to stimulate a somatic response. Here is an example of a butoh-fu from Hijikata:
You Live Because Insects Eat You
A person is buried in a wall.
He becomes an insect.
The internal organs are parched and dry.
The insect is dancing on a thin sheet of paper.
The insect tries to hold falling particles from its own body,
And dances, making rustling noises.
The insect becomes a person who is wandering around,
So fragile, he could crumble at the slightest touch.
The butoh dancer dances these images, not representing them for an audience, but using them as a stimulus for the transformations of movement of the purest kind. Hijikata’s butoh-fu are still not available to the public; I have seen extracts from them in an exhibition in Taipei in winter 2014, but I’m itching now to see more.
Butoh is a dead body standing desperately upright.
Butoh means to meander, or to move, as it were, in twists and turns between the realms of the living and the dead.