First I would like to speak about what kind of training one should pursue, because dance is "a realization of one's dream through the body", one must first know one's body very well. When I say 'the body', I mean a total body that includes all levels – the bio-skeletal body, the spirit, and intuition.
Dance is not movement in itself, but it is greatly related with movement. Therefore, one must know the functions of movements. I often compare the body with a building. The function of the body, like the ones of the building, has
If these three work well together, it becomes movement, and the movement can have a relationship with dance.
Before entering the dance training, we train the body which is the valuable instrument of dance. This training is for flexibility and core strength – using stretching – and power and balance training. These exercises have a single aim – by training the lower-body (the base of our body), we prepare the body so that the upper body can relax.
Now about the dance training. In order to let the body function entirely, I made about five fundamental dances. These are truly fundamental movements that one can encounter in daily life. For example, to walk, to rise up (to stand), to crouch, to roll on the floor, and to turn. These are the first lessons. If one cannot perform well these fundamentals, the shortcomings show during the dance.
Next, let us think of requirements for the movement to become dance. Movement alone does not become dance – the requirement for the dance is that one feeds such things as one's own dreams, memories, and desires into the movement. For this reason, sometimes, not to move (to be in stillness) becomes also dance. I am speaking ahead of myself, but let us say that dance is "a work of making the mental imagination into a concrete picture through the body". We must be able to draw various pictures with our bodies.
The lessons in order to achieve this might be, for example, to dance a story-like subject (for instance, to dance an old pregnant salmon climbing against the rapid), or to dance a sensory subject (to dance the 'sensation of peeling off'), or to dance a material (texture) not limited by movement or form (to dance 'fragrance', to dance 'stagnation'), or to dance an intuition that is impossible to dance to (to dance 'a prostitute named ruin' or 'to fish silence' etc.)
Lastly, it is necessary to to do a training of improvisation. In order to free one's mind and body, improvisation is an absolutely necessary training. However, improvisation is not about doing whatever you want to do, like it is generally understood. Improvisation is a work of precisely choosing actions from moment to moment by preparing as many sensory and perceptive antennae as possible. In a sense, if our antennae grows more numerous as a result of training, an action that might happen by chance comes nearer to necessity (nature).
Now, finally, I would like to speak about two very important points.
1. Firstly, unlike dancers of traditional or classical dance, we are in a sense amateurs. By 'in a sense' means, if we judge from the view point of defined aesthetic models and technical levels. A "professional" dancer will immediately drop out of the framework of these models and levels if he/she misses one day of training – so they cannot dare to miss the training.
Of course, for us also, lessons are valuable – however, because there are no defined measures and levels, in this sense we can stay amateurs. However, if one thinks that one can then dance very easily, it is the contrary. It is incredibly difficult. The reason why it is difficult is because the reason to dance does not exist in technique and levels, but it exists within one's self.
It may be difficult to understand, but I would like to replace the word "self" by the word "concreteness". For example, even if one follows the procedure that we learned somewhere, if it is not something extremely high level, it is not one's own, and one will not win against a high level professional. Also, it is possible to dance to music, but if the rhythm of the dance is not properly good enough, it cannot pass as a performance.
As I just gave the examples, if the learned dance procedure or dancing to music is not crystalized technically, it is only a borrowed dance – it is to say that it is not concrete. Then, what could one do? One is to find within oneself something concrete, something that will not be questioned in terms of technique (victory, defeat, or merits by competition do not exist in our dance) and dance it richly or desperately. This is the meaning to dance or, in other words, to dance one's body. If you are not convinced by this, please verify it by dancing.
2. Now, secondly, there are some people who say that they dance to heal themselves. At the beginning, this is allowable, but if one does it to the end, it is a problem. The reason is, our dance cannot be done alone. It always requires someone looking on, a witness. To put it simply, it is a performance (exchange with audience), and if I may use my favourite words, one needs a resolution to be on show. It means that half is for healing oneself, and the other half for healing and giving joy – and if fortunate, to touch the hearts of – others. If one forgets this, the dance becomes a selfish act that is only to satisfy oneself.
A dance of the content as I described above is not easy to appeal socially to become famous or to make a lot of money. This is because society likes to create frameworks and models, and to create superiority within that framework. Society puts a price on the dance as a commodity.
Therefore, ones who aspire to our kind of dance must have a great resolution and courage to not care at all about not being famous or to be outside of the assessments and competitions. If still you would like to try our kind of dance, please visit me one day.
– February 16, 2009 / Athens
Butoh is a form of contemporary dance created in the late 1950's by 土方巽 Tatsumi Hijikata. It is contemporary in the very precise sense of the term, reflecting as it does the necessities and demands of the times.
Butoh charged through Japan's avant-garde scene, fueled by the tremendous power of several dancers, first and foremost Tatsumi Hijikata with his ankoku butoh. The 1980s saw butoh dancers (including myself) developing and expanding their work not only in Japan but also in Europe, the United States and, indeed, all over the world.
What has made butoh so significant is that not only has it opposed the rigidly prescribed forms often found in both traditional and modern dance but it has also demanded a philosophical uprooting which categorically refutes all modes of ready-made 'culture'. (Here, 'culture' includes not just the performing arts of dance, theatre, mime, music, etc. but also literature and other categories.) This opposition of prescribed and ready-made culture is sustained not by the the body as a functional object as demanded by society but the body as a living and changing sculpture fashioned by life itself. We refer to this latter body as 'nikutai', and it is a body that resounds with the desire for individual life, one which encompasses individual history and experience.
Almost ten years since the death of Tatsumi Hijikata, butoh has entered a new era in Japan and elsewhere. This new era has seen the rise of dancers who, while having been influenced both directly and indirectly by Hijikata's supremely perfected method of butoh, have nevertheless been developing their own individual work and attitudes. For instance, while ankoku butoh can be said to have possessed a very precise method and philosophy handed down from master to apprentice (perhaps it could be called 'inherited' butoh), I regard present-day butoh as a 'tendency' that depends not only on Hijikata's philosophical legacy but also on the development of new and diverse modes of expression.
The 'tendency' that I speak of involves extracting the pure life which is dormant in our bodies. The result is not butoh as a genre but as the essential element for all expression. In this sense, there is a strong possibility that butoh is ubiquitous, existing not necessarily in every dance that calls itself butoh but in certain other types of dance not bearing the butoh label. Indeed, it is an unfortunate fact that certain dancers have been mistakenly banished from the butoh lattice on grounds of not meeting superficial and seemingly random criteria. At this point I should mention that my use of the concept 'pure life' does not indicate beauty, health, homogeneity, etc. Rather, it indicates the entire spectrum of life – not just polar concepts such as beautiful and ugly, good and bad, bright and dark and so on.
As ankoku butoh lies outside my realm, I have nothing to teach about butoh as a method. Rather, I specialise in work which is dynamic and changing; it focuses on how to pinpoint and extract life itself from the body. So what is one to do when one has nothing to teach? It may come as a surprise when I say that butoh could well be dormant in your own body. My work is to discover ways to extract that butoh, that life. I should point out that, although butoh may be dormant in everyone, it may not be attainable to everyone. Whether or not you can dance butoh depends on whether or not your body encompasses desire, regret, pleasure and interest in living along with life's experiences and memories. Bodily habits are also a kind of memory.
In addition, as long as butoh is a kind of expression, we must have the ability and responsibility to 'edit' those inner elements. I have no interest in those who see butoh as a kind of exotic spectacle of strange movements and bizarre gestures and who want to 'learn' it by some sort of rote process. Butoh is an ineffable kind of behavior produced by the body itself, possessing neither name nor form.
Ignoring what is already in the body and concerning oneself with some exterior facet of the body is tantamount to exploiting the body as a tool of expression. This is far from the spirit of butoh. I am primarily interested in ordinary people, the people who can share in the pleasure and pain of living. I find only marginal interest in butoh fanatics who covet butoh as an oddity and the dance 'experts' whose pride hangs on the thread of conventional technique.
– February 2, 1995
My White Butoh is not intended as an antithesis to 'ankoku butoh' (black butoh or the dance of darkness) of Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of butoh. Rather, by using the word 'white' I stress the philosophical advocacy of ankoku butoh: a butoh dancer must completely expose the 'darkness of his own existence.' In this interpretation, I amplify it and assert that such exposure should be so complete that it comes under the 'white sun', meaning a perfectly clear and cloudless light.
Almost all modern dances in Western countries, or worldwide, are 'created' with the basic method of first clarifying a concept and then collecting and arranging dancers' external movements and forms to realize that concept. In contrast, one of butoh's largest characteristics is to produce – or more accurately, 'give birth to' – dances by guilding and drawing out the 'dance' already immanent in the dancer's body (this 'dance' may be referred to as 'original experience'; the word 'inner landscape' is often used in the butoh world). As a result, some butoh dances do not involve specific or phenomenological forms and movements as their basic element.
Butoh dancers have always referred to the body with that immanent 'original landscape' ('dance') as 'nikutai', to be distinguished from the physical body, or flesh, as a biological entity. To realize 'nikutai', a butoh dancer must recognize and amass personal experiences, memories and bodily habits; and since butoh is an art of expression, he must also have the ability to 'montage' those personal elements.
Difficulties butoh dancers are often faced with are related to the difficulties of realizing 'nikutai'. Difficulties, or sometimes misunderstandings, on the part of butoh audiences, on the other hand, lie in their common sense, with which they seek to see 'nikutai' with the immanent 'inner landscape' only as a visible object, or as specific and phenomenological forms and movements. White Butoh's thrust, however, is to go to the very bottom of the essence of butoh which is prior to forms and movements; namely, to pursue the realities of life. It goes without saying that it is not an easy task.
– September 1989 / La Maison du Butoh Blanc
Photo © Jacques Sadoun