butoh/itto ankoku butoh

GooSayTen Butoh Workshops and lessons

Techniques in Ankoku Butoh : Butoh dance lift or Butoh adadio

(Itto Morita: Jan.11th, 2015)
You might encouter with a butoh dancer (maybe, Japanese) who dares to say that "there is not techniques in butoh". No ways, of course. But, it is sure that there is some essential ideas in it about the authentic butoh although it fails to convey the real meaning of "no techniques".

I would say that there are lots of techniques you have to learn in the butoh training as we have proposed at least 20-30 different bodymind exercises in our butoh workshops, but your butoh performance would not appear authentic if you are too conscious about them while performing. We believe that butoh should be performed under a different state of consciousness, or in other words, there should be a kind of selfless state or non egocentric state of mind while performing by losing the very intention to perform as planned.

However, to think realistically, it sould be a combination of two opposite factors: The precise and highly developed body-mind techniques is in one side, and the ability to transcend them is in the other side while performing butoh. The latter is often connected to "butoh Tai", butoh body or butoh attitude, such as that turns ordinary dancing into something mysterious (hopefully) Ankoku butoh.

Anyway, I would like to show you butoh dance lift or butoh adadio techniques used in butoh performance since Hijikata's days. The word "adadio" (maybe, Italian) already has been used in butoh to describe "lift dance" or lifting the dance partner in the way of Ankoku butoh.

*Sankaijuku has avoided dance lift to preserve their butoh style.

Hijikata had to choreograph his young butoh students in the early days of butoh in 1960s (until 1986), who did not know almost anything about dance or butoh, and he gave them exact choreographs. For example, "Ox walk" is one of the walking methods in butoh, as shown in Hijikata's perforamance "Small Pox Story". Hijikata's butoh students claimed that it was realy hard to master the walking method completely, and their barefoot soles finally started bleeding during the lesson...
Butoh dance lift or adagio by Mika and Itto

A black and white Mika's image is an example of butoh dance lift by Itto of GooSayten. (It is turned upside down for a poster) In this lift position, Mika totally relaxes and looks smiling although in a strained position.
Butoh often consists of two opposite factors such as relaxation versus tension, curve versus straight line, fast movments versus painfully slow ones, etc. In lift or adagio, these basics are also important.
The coexistance of opposite factors in any form makes people uneasy or puzzled, and fix their attention to the posture or the movement because of the unsolved contradiction. We strongly believe this, and train ourselves hard, physically and mentally, in order to actualize it in our performance.
The human body is heavy, and not so easy to handle. Dancers would strain themselves or get injured unfortunately in the lift. But in butoh, unlike other dance styles, those risks and possibilities are also very significant as they make audience anxious or scarign them. In our case, Butoh GooSayTen, we run the risk of straining ourselves by twisting elbow joints, etc.
But, running the risk of straining oneself does not mean damaging oneself. It is meaningless if you hurt yourself physically and you have to cancel your performance. The point is very clear: you have to deepen your body-mind sensitivities by training in order to avoid any damages while exploring your physical and mental limits such as a fear of straining your muscles, bones, tendons, etc.
*I just remembered one butoh dancer who loved jumping down from a high place, who seemed to be enjoying running the risk of falling with thrills, fears, and joys when succeeded, until he finally broke his legs...
 *Butoh GooSayTen performance for Ecarte 2013 Paris - [video site]  
  • The Duo Dance Lift by Tatsumi Hijikata and Akiko Motofuji

    The Hijikata's photograph is the front cover of a Japanese book written by Akiko Motofuji, Hijikata's wife.
    Akiko wrote and told us that they had a dance tour showing their dance and lift techniques at many cabarets around Japan in order to earn a living before they started butoh dance activities.

    She said that she used to join the ballet tour of Russian Bolishoi Theatre (Moscow) as a ballet dancer. Akiko and Tatsumi taught their dance lift techniques to their young students, who were then sent to cabarets to show fire dance, dance lift, nude dance, etc. to earn money and keep Hijikata's "Asbestos Studio" in Tokyo. The boss of Dairakudaka, Akaji Maro, also told his experiences about the cabaret tours when he was one of Hijikata's young students.

    * The book title is "Together with Tatsumi Hijikata", Chikuma Shobo 1990.

  • "Anma" (masseur) :Hijikata's performance (1963)

    In a performance titled "Anma (masseur)" 1963, run by "Dance Experience noh kai", Hijikata showed a circus like lift, having a one dancer on his shoulders and holding the other in the first dancers' underarms.
    It is sure that those lift techniques used to belong to butoh dance training and appeared frequently in butoh performances. Dance lift is a good training to learn how to deal with the human body, heavy but soft and fragile one. In this point, the lift training is related to Noguchi Taiso, Noguchi's physical exercise system that has much to do with the weight of human body. It reminds us that there is "Ne-nyoro lesson", etc.

  • "Gekka noh Uneh" Hoppo-butoh-ha (1982)

    A group of young butoh dancers suddenly moved from Tokyo to Otaru, a seaside city near Sapporo, and started their own butoh activities as "Hoppo Butoh Ha" (nouthern butoh sect/group) in the late 1970s. Gyorankan was the name of their base, an old movie theater, where female butoh dancers' group "Suzuranto" also resided.
    *Atsuhi Takenouchi used to belong to Hoppo Butoh Ha in the late 1980s.
    After they dissolved, the house was renamed "Banshokan" by Ichiro Ojima, who started his own butoh group "Kobuzoku Arutai (altaic)" there. And, "Uminekoya", one of the famous restaurants in Otaru, was run by Makoto-san, one of the ex-member of Hoppo-butoh-ha.

     These images are taken from their performance "Gekka noh Uneh" in Sapporo, 1982. They used lift performances frequently as shown in the photos.  
  • Byakkosha in Kyoto

    Byakkosha, in Kyoto, run by Isamu Osuga, was one of the notorious butoh dance groups because of their "vulgar and absurd" performance style in 1980s-1990s. (dissolved in 1996?)
    Eventually, they appealed well to the Western audiences through one of the famous butoh DVDs, "Dance of Darkness" featuring Byakkosha and Dairakudakan.
    We are sometimes surprised to find that some of our workshop participants identified butoh as those dances performed by Byakkosha or Dairakudakan. Maybe, Byakkosha + Dairakudakan is located in the one extreme end of a butoh axis, and the stylish butoh of Sankaijuku in the opposite end.

    One of the erotic lift techniques is shown in the right image: The hips of female dancer are located under the smiling man's face, and he starts drumming the hips... The female dancers usually performed with their naked breasts. Nudity had nothing to do with butoh itself originally, but because of their performance style, nudity was often misunderstood to be essential in butoh by many audiences both in Japan and abroad.
    The left image shows that several man-female pairs are about to start their lift.

  • Kobuzoku Arutai in Otaru

    Ichiro Ojima started "Kobuzoku Arutai (altaic)" butoh group in Otaru in about 1986 after "Hoppo Butoh Ha" dissolved. He loved and was very good at the dance lift, and used frequently the techniques in the performance. The reason why I am writing this article about the dance lift is that I used to belong to the group, and practiced a lot with other members of "Arutai" in the late 1980s.

    from "Gin-iro Okoku" by Kobuzoku Arutai, Sapporo 1991

    There were about 20 or more lift patterns in the performance. (The stage was dark, and good images were not available).

    One thing that was very unusual in Arutai was that the boss started decreasing foods, say, one month before the performance. And, going on a fast, he had almost no energy to dance or lift in the performance day. We were not forced to stop eating, but almost all members somehow started fasting. No one was energetic at the performance day. We danced and lifted like ghosts under extreme starvation and exhaustion. It was really absurd that dancers dare to suffer starvation although they have to lift and carry his dance partiner's heavy body around.

    We soon learned that it was a kind of tradition of "Hoppo Butoh Ha", and the tradition came all the way from Hijikata's attitude towards butoh performance. We heard several legendary stories about starvation: One guy was ordered to live by eating one apple a day, etc...

    I learned a lot through these experiences about lifting under starvation: Butoh is not simply a dance show for audiences but something spiritual or an ordeal for the performers as you have to undergo physical and mental hardships.

  • Butoh GooSayTen: Itto Morita and Mika Takeuchi

    The photograph is one schene of Mika's "Princess Mermaid". During the performance, she keeps the posture for 20-30 minutes with her very strong abdominal muscle as she is a mermaid and cannot stand or walk.

    [Princess Mermaid 2011] (photographs)

    Our butoh performance used to be about 2 hours long. It took at least 2 hours to do one run-through. When we were invited to dance festivals or butoh events abroad, we were asked to shorten our performance. Since then, ours are about 90 minutes or much shorter.

    Anyway, we usually add several lifts, and try to give different factors in our performance.
    Because lifting is sometimes very dangerous if you fail, every movement in a lift is basically determined beforehand. But, as we peform in a different state of mind by losing ordinary ability to judge, accidents can occur: Clothes or bands of Mika's costume suddenly catch my neck or arms when lifting and spinning. The harder I struggled to get loose, the deeper they cut into my throat, etc, and I writhed in agony. Of course, this is very good for a real and authentic butoh...

(C) Butoh GooSayTen: Itto Morita 1/11, 2015

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