My writing has become more sporadic. For various reasons. I have been at Keio University almost everyday, researching, reading, watching videos.  Otherwise I’ve been discovering more of Tokyo. Sakura season and its cherry blossoms is nearly here and the park opposite my flat is in full preparations. Even the birds have returned and are patiently sittingon the wires looking towards the park and egging the cherry blossoms on…

The birds waiting for Hanami

Tents are up for Hanami...meaning Cherry Blossom gazing!

My butoh adventure continued this past week with a 6 day workshop with Akira Kasai. He is one of the first group of dancers who were instrumental in creating what we now call butoh, although he emphasized that at the time it was not known as Butoh. His way of teaching is fascinating, like a puzzle, I’m not sure why he is telling us certain things but when we dance, my body seems to come up with the answers and suddenly it makes sense. It’s very philosophical, metaphysical, imaginative and he himself is so ‘sympathique’, inspiring and a great presence. He smiles and laughs and clowns about. He gets right into the improvisations, spreading his electric energy around and seeing what happens. Perhaps this is how he shares his knowledge and that’s why I get these moments of clarity as I’m twisting and turning in the throng of dancers as Akira comes up to me, takes my hands and shakes me about for 30 seconds.

Of course taking a workshop in Japan also entails socialising, elaborate dinners, drinking beer and sake and toasting ‘kanpai’…and then missing my train twice!

We gathered in a local restaurant on Wednesday and Saturday night and talked at length of butoh, what it means, especially what it means today. It is exciting to talk to Kasai-san about this as he has a very original outlook and a unique way of teaching it. He doesn’t teach any movements, he just teaches awareness, conscience, impulse and excavates the reasons for moving in the first place. He also teaches me about drinking sake:

Kanpai!

It’s now over a month ago I arrived in Tokyo. I can say that what I suspected about butoh and what I inherently felt seems to be emerging. By looking through the archives at Keio I have been surprised at how many parallels there are between ideas i have had before even seeing any of this material and the ones developed by Hijikata and his crew. One is so strikingly close that it is uncanny. In Hijikata’s famous solo ‘Rebellion of the Body’, a piece inspired by Hijikata’s reading of Artaud, the artist who worked on the scenography, Nakanishi Natsuyuki, created an object with a traditional Japanese wooden shoe attached to an old bellows pump with a clear plastic tube attached to it. Hjikata also wore black rubber gloves for a part of the performance.

In 2010 I made a film inspired by my readings of Artaud’s writings. It was in preparation for ‘The Theatre of the Viscera’ piece I developed with Matt Jackson and Ingrid Hu in Paris later that year. These two objects were used in this film and I had never seen any of the objects or even the performance of ‘Rebellion of the Body’:

Bellows pump and foot, the Theatre of the Viscera

Nakanishi's Bellows Object, Rebellion of the Body

Another very close parallel I found was between an image I discovered whlst doing research for ‘The Theatre of the Viscera’. The image formed one of the main inspiration for the work: it is ‘L’ange Anatomique’ by Jacques-Fabien Gautier d’Agoty. This same image must have inspired Nakanishi Natsuyuki again when he painted Hijikata’s back with an image for the performance of ‘Emotion in Metaphysics’:

L'ange Anatomique by Jacques-Fabien Gautier d'Agoty, coloured mezzotint, 1746.

Hijikata's Back by Nakanishi Natsuyuki

These striking coincidences lead me into an archeaology of Butoh and what it means as a concept, as opposed to a dance form. From these images and these echoes in work from the 60s and work from 2010 ie. 50 years later, I’m lead to think that there is an aspect of the collective unconscious in this work. Even if it doesn’t completely relate to what Jung means by ths term, I feel that there is a collective ‘spirit level’ in Butoh. This level seems to be corporeal, intuitive and linked to a certain humanist ideaology. Of course the theme of human ‘dis-ease’ within organised contemporary society is also a part of it: the malaise of the negated body. This is what Artaud seems to have suffered from, even being described as the first ‘victim of capitalism’. When the body becomes alienated from its work and its use, it develops anxiety:

“My dance…flaunts its aimlessness in the face of a product-orientated society. In this sense my dance…can naturally be a protest against the ‘alienation of labour’ in a capitalist society.” (Hijikata T., ‘To Prison’ in The Drama Review, Spring 2000)

What I’m looking for now is ‘Butoh Quality’, I’ve looked through my back catalogue to trace when this quality entered my work. I realise it has been around for as long as I have, but I can say that I began to feel its insistent touch on my nervous system, almost exactly 5 years ago when I was doing my MA and of course all my work was undergoing a huge metamorphosis, as was I. I’ve written a piece about it on my website >>

As Hijikata said, ‘butoh quality’ can be applied to everything. Van Gogh’s work has butoh quality, as does Louise Bourgeois’, also Yayoi Kusama, and Joseph Beuys, and many more. Butoh is seen by many in the contemporary art world as theatrical, hysterical and irrelevant. I think that if butoh quality is developed and applied in the way it was first conceptualized (albeit intuitively) by Hijikata, it could be an incredibly powerful artistic tool and ideology for creation. It’s power comes from its global influences and oscillation of ideas: German Expressionism going East and being brought back West; Akira Kasai mentions the French Revolution as being the main root of Butoh; of course Butoh is also based on a revolt against the capitalist system which seems to be showing serious flaws at the moment. Butoh quality in art and life can embody what Beuys called “the Third Way’.

I went to a great exhibition this weekend, an artist who was inspired by Hijikata’s performance in the 1960s and wose work reflects this. His name is Shimizu Akira, he creates collages, installations, sculptures. I was greatly inspired by his work which resonated very much with my own sensorial representations of the body. I created a collage today as a response to his work:

'Body Image' for Shimizu Akira

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