Butoh By Candelario, Rosemary
The Japanese avant-garde dance, butoh, developed out of experiments and collaborations directed by Hijikata Tatsumi (1928–1986) and often involved Ohno Kazuo (1906–2010) in Tokyo beginning in the late 1950s. Butoh is stereotypically slow-moving, performed in white makeup, with shaved heads, and distorted faces and bodies. This dance genre cannot easily be pinned down to one set of movement techniques or aesthetics. Instead, its aesthetics exist on a spectrum traceable to styles established by Hijikata and Ohno. The former choreographed intricately detailed surrealist spectacles that resisted interpretation. The latter created fanciful and sublime improvised solos, aimed at expressing universal truths about life and death. As butoh has been disseminated and adapted around the world, the polarities between Hijikata and Ohno—structure versus improvisation, arbitrariness versus an assumption of unity of movement and emotion, spectacle and entertainment versus personal catharsis—are still operative. What all versions of butoh have in common is an image-based approach to generating movement, emphasis on the dissolution and transformation of the dancing subject, an intense physicality that may result in explosions of movement across the stage or a strictly contained tension beneath the surface of the skin, and themes such as death, sex, marginality, and nature.