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Spacetime and Mud in Butoh

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This chapter will address Japanese Butoh (Dance) as a unique type of performed ecological knowledge with agricultural roots, intimacy with nature through the ground, and cross-cultural and urban juxtapositions. From its inception in the work of Hijikata Tatsumi (1928–1986) and his surreal dance Kinjiki (Forbidden Colours, 1959), Butoh has developed uncanny amalgamations – like Tokyo itself with its ancient shrines and small soba shops next to Big Macs and skyscrapers, its shops selling T-shirts alongside antique silk kimonos, and its technogloss beneath which the traveller may find a labyrinth of villages profuse with rustic traditions.

It is amazing how Japan assimilates. Retention of identity amid, synthesis has been the Japanese way for centuries. Likewise, it is a, Butoh strategy. Both rustic and contemporary, Butoh is a form of, theatre that had its genesis amidst the global upheavals and political, riots of the 1960s. Hijikata's Kinjiki was based on the novel by, Mishima Yukio (1951) and featured a chicken being squeezed, between the legs of Ohno Yoshito, the very young son of Ohno, Kazuo (b. 1906). The elder Ohno would later become a Butoh, icon and one of the most noted Japanese performers of the twentieth, century. The stage was dark and the dance was short, but its sexual, message caused Hijikata's expulsion from the Japanese Dance Association., Nevertheless, his work flourished underground, where he drew, inspiration from such diverse sources as the films of Kurosawa Akira – especially Yoidore Tenshi (The Drunken Angel) – and European surrealist, writers.

Revolt of the Flesh (1968) marked Hijikata's shamanistic descent, into his native roots. Ankoku Butoh (The Dance Of Darkness), was established as a new form of dance born of Hijikata's childhood, memories of Tohoku, the bucolic landscape of his birthplace in a, poor district of rural Japan. Part demon, part deconstructor, Hijikata, cast spells as he transformed his body episodically, jerking and twitching, in a G-string beside a dangling rabbit on a pole, dancing in a dress,, and then stretching himself in crucifixion.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2005

More about this publication?
  • Performing Nature
    The essays in this volume explore the borderland between ecology and the arts. Informed by psychoanalysis and cultural materialism, contributors to the first part, 'Spectacle: Landscape and Subjectivity', look at ways in which particular social and scientific experiments, theatre and film productions and photography either reinforce or contest our ideas about nature and human-human or human-animal relations and identities. The second part, 'World: Hermeneutic Language and Social Ecology', investigates political protest, social practice art, acoustic ecology, dance theatre, family therapy and ritual in terms of social philosophy. Contributors to the third part, 'Environment: Immersiveness and Interactivity', explore architecture and sculpture, site-specific and mediatised dance and paratheatre through radical theories of urban and virtual space and time, or else phenomenological philosophy. The final part, 'Void: Death, Life and the Sublime', indicates the possibilities in dance, architecture and animal behaviour of a shift to an existential ontology in which nature has 'the capacity to perform itself'.
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