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JULY 2005
Issue 062

Passion and pain

Butoh is THE alternative theatre of Japan.

A demented wonderland. Heads shaved, bodies painted white, clad only in a white G-string which is sometimes removed. Gripping and ghastly. Macabre and magical. This very Japanese avant-garde dance form conti- nues to shock, entertain and create a sensation wherever it is performed.

Butoh is a Japanese dance theatre with its own distinct features and peculiarities. Performers contort their faces in agony and roll their eyes into the back of their heads. Movement can be painstakingly slow or convulsive and can include involuntary contraction of the muscles. Barely visible breathing patterns, silent screams and primeval shrieks.

Throughout this surreal, crazy stage dance, the artistic direction of Akaji Maro, the founder of Dairakudakan, one of the first butoh dance companies, shines through. Tempu-tenshiki, is a word created by Maro to mean, 'being born in the world is a great talent in itself' and miburi-teburi, means gesture and movement but he has changed the defini-tion to, 'incorporate rudimentary daily movements into his works'.

Otherwise known for his role as Boss Ozawa in Kill Bill Vol. 1, Maro was an important early figure in this uniquely Japanese dance form pioneered by Hijikata Tatsumi (1928-86), who was inspired by the body movement and gestures of people who move, unnaturally.

As the wind of change blew in the sixties and it became apparent young people were no longer happy to be restrained by the conserva-tive thinking of the fifties, significant changes took place in lifestyle, values and entertainment.

It was an era that broke new ground and welcomed energetic experimentation. In Japan there was a move away from shingeki, modern Japanese theatre that had emerged in the twentieth century under the influence of Western theatre.

The sixties proved to be a crucial turning point and fertile ground for contemporary theatre companies to challenge new works and in 1964 Maro did just that by becoming a co-founder of Jyokyo Gekijo, with Juro Kara.

In 1972, Maro founded his own butoh dance company, The Great Camel Battleship (literal translation of Dairakudakan), which brought spectacle to the stage and controversy to his door. He likens his dance troupe to the camel, an animal that bears all the qualities inherent in the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac (patience, strength ...), yet does not appear in the astrological chart. The unusual beast did appear quite suddenly, right out of the blue in Japan during the Meiji era and people did not know what to make of it.

Cruel, painful, torturous, ugly, shocking, quirky, comical are just some of the adjectives that have been used to describe this all-white ensemble, yet that has not stopped young artists from all backgrounds flocking to join the ranks.

"I saw Dairakudakan's butoh for the first time when I was a university student. I was so shocked I was lost for words, but I was also very impressed. Many feelings rushed through me, but ultimately I found butoh really cool!" says Ryo Yamamoto, ex-dancer and now associate producer of Dairakudakan Temputenshiki group.

"Somehow I was attracted to the idea of dancing with my body painted white, so I joined the summer intensive course and the rest is history".

Butoh is now an established art form, but the struggle to innovate and break new boundaries continues. Theatregoers today are more sophisticated, more critical. Yamamoto would like people to approach butoh without any preconceptions, "Dairakudakan should be an unprecedented butoh experience", she explains.

In addition to his passion for creating new work, Maro's other mission is to encourage his company members to develop their own style of expression. The philosophy behind this is called, ichinin-ippa — one dancer, one school.

As a result several dance ensembles has sprung up within the main company, all committed to challenging new works. Their commitment ensures that butoh will continue to shock, entertain and create a sensation wherever they perform.

Being there
Just back from a tour of Korea and Israel, butoh returns to the Kansai stage ...
July 13 & 14
Infinite Possibilities — Kano Mugen
This is the second work of choreographer and director, Eiko Kanesawa who joined the group in 1993. Editor-in-chief of the company's newsletter, The Fiery Season as well as an instructor at Mujin-juku, the butoh school of Dairakudakan. Kanesawa borrowed the concept of infinity from the world of mathematics and explains. "It's possible for man to image the infinite. Just take a simple thing like the numbers one and two. In between these two familiar numbers is an infinite amount of numbers hiding."

• Time: 7:30pm
July 16 & 17
The Jar Odyssey III
This is the third work of choreographer and director, Kumotaro Mukai who joined the group in 1994. "Enter the jar, then paradise will open," Mukai says of his work. A journey is the concept behind this series and this is the last journey. Who knows what is in store in this demented Wonderland?
• July 16 at 2pm and 7:30pm
• July 17 at 2pm

Art Theater dB (dance box), Osaka
Entry: ¥2,000. ¥2,500 at the door. Two performance ticket ¥3,500
Getting there: Dobutsuen-mae subway station. Festival gate 3F. The theatre is located at the back of the cafe. The audience is squeezed into a rather small seating area. As the dance-drama unfolds, you'll forget you are sitting on your heels.
Tel: 06-6646-1120

Text: Mylene Oishi • Photos: Araki Nobuyoshi

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Passion and pain
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