Essays

Flowers Named Body − I

by MIRO ITO

Metaphorically speaking, Noh and Butoh are different types of flowers… From the early 1990s on, I began to photograph avant-garde Butoh dancers. Butoh (舞踏) is a revolutionary Japanese art form of body expression that is recognised around the world as is its name.

The origin of Ankoku Butoh (“Dark Butoh”) begins with Forbidden Colours (Original novel by Yukio Mishima) performed by Tatsumi Hijikata in 1959. The encounter between Tatsumi Hijikata (1928-1986) and Kazuo Ohno (1906-2010) gave birth to Butoh, an original form of physical performance art unique to Japan.

In a sense, Butoh can be considered a natural progression of the German Neuer künstlerischer Tanz (new dance movement) and its rejection of traditional paradigms of dance. Neuer künstlerischer Tanz is an expressionist movement in body performance art of the early 20th century that informed the Soul of Butoh: Kazuo Ohno (* 1).

Considering Ono's worldwide success during his lifetime, it may well be that Ohno's Butoh was so well-received in the world, because it is not purely Japanese, but was built on the foundations of Western expressionist dance”(*2).

Metaphorically speaking, the encounter of eastern and western body expressionist culture is embedded in Butoh.

After studying Neuer künstlerischer Tanz, Tatsumi Hijikata, also referred to as the architect of Butoh (* 3), was deeply moved by Kazuo Ohno's performance in 1949. Subsequently after he took the stage as a modern dancer and came into contact with American jazz dance and classical ballet, he created a Japanese dance style that is not merely a Western imitation.

In the 1960’s, he devised his own movements and behaviours based on rice planting motions of agricultural work, bending down the centre of gravity of the whole body, painted ghostly pale-white, twisting and turning and crawling while rolling.

Hijikata went on to produce Kazuo Ohno's solo performance La Argentina as artistic director; premiering in1977, it is still a defining work of Butoh today.

The performance La Argentina was created as an homage to her from Ohno’s experience having watched her on stage in Tokyo in 1929. By 1994, it had been performed 119 times worldwide and is heralded as one of the historical achievements in the annals of world dance.

As for Butoh dancers who learned from Hijikata, Akaji Maro (Dairakudakan troupe), Ushio Amagatsu (Sankaijuku troupe), Ko Murobushi and Koichi Tamano (Harpin troupe) share the limelight of those who have been highly regarded since the 80’s.

The inner universe of the body

The theme of Quick Silver (mercury) was a collaboration between Ko Murobushi and myself, and became the official image of the Venice Biennale Dance Division (2006).

Note
*1,3 Jean Viala; Butoh– Shades of Darkness (Tuttle Publishing), 1988
-2 Discussion with Akiko Moriyama


This essay appears in Miro Ito's photobook Signs of the Intangible published in January 2023.

Official image of the Venice Biennale Dance Division (2006) : Quick Silver
Butoh dancer, Ko Murobushi photographed by Miro Ito

Signs of the Intangible is a collection of photographs by photo artist MIRO ITO, which captures the history of Japan's 1400-year "mind-and-body-unity” culture from a unique perspective.
Introducing "body-and-soul-scapes" where Japanese prayers and belief in dedicatory, repentance interact, including Gigaku and Bugaku masks that were introduced over 1400 years ago, Noh theatre created in the 14th century, and the 20th century avant-garde Butoh and modern dance. With 85 photographs (including new and unpublished works), it also serves as the catalogue accompanying the international exhibitions series.