butoh/itto ankoku butoh

GooSayTen Butoh Therapy


by Itto Morita and Mika Takeuchi

(updated. Jan.6, 2017)

Butoh therapy reconsidered.

We started using the term "butoh therapy" in 2010 when we had the fearful disaster of earthquakes and tsunamis, killing nearly 30,000 people along the seashores of the north-east side of the Honshuu island.

Seven years has passed since then, and most people seemed to enjoy watching the new year events in TV, etc. It is good to have a happy time anyway although Kumamoto, one of the prefectures of the southernmost Kyushu island, was attacked last year by frequent earthquakes for several months destroying houses, the infra-structures, and economies, etc.

We are weak and vulnerable.
Painting, singing, dancing, and etc. can ease our pains sometimes. So called "art" has the power sometimes as does "therapy". It is difficult to define what art is, but "therapy" might be a bit easier to define: you would be able to use the term "therapy" when your pains are weakened somehow.
I, Itto Morita, am going to be 66 years old this year, and my butoh career is about 30 years. I have one thing that I have discovered through my butoh career: the body-mind training of butoh and butoh performance eases my pain.

This year is the year of bird, and flying like a bird is a preferable idea for this year. I cannot fly well anymore myself with my painful knees and backaches, but I think I can teach people how to dare to fly in a butoh wayc

Well, it is O.K., but this is one side of my butoh story. The other side is mysteriously related to how to elaborate, say, your physical "butoh technique". As in Noguchi Taiso gymnastics, or in the ancient martial arts of killing in the samurai or ninja era in Japan, it is not an image lesson by having a flying image in mind, but a physical training rhetorically with hair-splitting precision as in avoiding your knee or low back pain, and etc.

With my aged body with various pains, I think I will be able to explore my body-mind for butoh much more effectively than the younger people. Because of those approaches to enhance our own body-mind awareness, I think I can heal myself well, hopefully others too. A good challenge in the new year of bird.

Itto Morita (Jan.6, 2017)

Butoh - a therapy of life trajectory.

Men get old, women too. Many already have passed away, immortal butoh figures too.
Kazuo Ohno, one of them, died in 2010 at the age of 103, leaving his son, Yoshito in Yokohama. Yoshito has been cheerfully called "Yoshito San!" by his young Butoh students although he is in his seventies. We love his way of walking with a spray of flower in his hand. It makes us remember Kazuo, Akiko Motofuji (Hijikata's wife), some others, and makes us weep. (I did not see living Hijikata, to our regret) I saw Kazuo's performance many times in Hakodate of Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture, where he was born. Akiko, a spiritied woman, an Amazon, said to Mika "you preserve Butoh in Hokkaido". Good, we are not interested in Butoh activities occurring in the far side of the Hokkaido tunnel connecting Hokkaido island with Honshu, the mainland Japan.
Hokkaido is a good place to preserve things intact because it is comfortably far from megalopolis. In Tokyo, everything goes away soon and new things are soon covered by much newer things. Not only things but also cultures are consumed. People soon get bored, and forget them.
Akiko Motofuji died in 2003. When we visited Asbestos Studio in Tokyo to attend Akiko's workshops or dropped in on her, she told us sometimes that she wished to go on the road for butoh performance, getting on a small vehicle as she did when Hijikata and Akiko were both young and a theatrical pair on the road for their living, showing their show dance around Japan. Akiko visited Hokkaido sometimes, and said to us cheerfully that she brought Hijikata's mortuary tablet (small wooden one) with her all the way to Kushiro, another Hokkaido city, as if she was having a date with him and was planning to collaborate with him again.
An old man in Kushiro fell down several days ago because of cerebral infarction. He had been running a small coffee shop there named "JIS IZ" ("this is"), one of most famous jazz places. He loves Kazuo Ohno, and invited him to his small coffee shop repeatedly to perform. We, Itto and Mika, helped him have those butoh events and helped Kazuo and Akiko perform. They enjoyed performing at a tiny stage. We performed with Akiko at a museum there, and Akiko told mika to preserve butoh in Hokkaido, while exchanging their hair bands.
Good memories... No Kazuo, No Akiko... And Azuma-san, an old man of jazz coffee shop, oh sorry, he is still alive :) . We hope to see him soon and show our butoh. Then, Butoh would be a therapy saving all of us from the world of nothing.

Itto Morita (Jan.31, 2013)

( Nov.5, 2011)
Before Butoh Therapy ...
I, Itto Morita, have been performing, teaching, and studying Butoh from the stand point of body-mind psychotherapy or body oriented psychotherapy since I started Butoh in 1988, but I had never used the word "Butoh therapy" officially during those years. Why ?
As I already explained a little bit about it, I and Mika Takeuchi, both certified dancetherapist, had been very cautious about an idea "Butoh as a psychotherapy" because we have witnessed several cases where Butoh can be very dangerous for some people who suffer from mental unbalance.

We experienced that some people had lost their mind while watching our Butoh performance: It is not rare that several people did not leave after our performance and kept sitting as if frozen. A woman suddenly started crying aloud amidst our performance untill the end of our performance. We learned later that she was coming from a mental hospital to see her friends of the theater, and that she said that our Butoh performance was her own world where she had lived. A young lady panicked by watching Mika's very strong Butoh performance, and nearly showed acute symptoms of schizophrenia with her eyes wide opened and half rolled back, with her limbs paralyzed for a couple of hours. I luckily happened to see her after Mika's performance and could cared for her for a while. She somehow could recover her tangible world around her and get back normal gradually. (As time went by, she became a professional psychotherapist working especially for schizophrenics at a mental hospital.)

We have witnessed these real "endangered body-mind" among the audiences for many years, but we came to notice that nobody in our Butoh training showed such pathological reactions although they appeared insane. We found that the framework of our Butoh dance method worked effectively and helped our students keep their mental ego-boundaries somehow stable even in an extremely fearful moment. We realized that we are successfully integrating artistic factors with therapeutic factors in our dark and black Butoh.

Butoh can be very artistic and theatrical often with dark-black factors, whose impacts have made the world accept Butoh dance with cultural modifications in each country. Although GooSayTen performance also has been artistic and sometimes theatrical due to the theme, we had kept a feeling of wrongness about it because of our heart-breaking encountering with those affected people who watched our performance.
We came to become a certified dancetherapist having several different programs at mental clinics, and gradually became to integrate two distinct fields, Butoh and therapy, practically and theoretically through our activities in both fields.

When the earthquakes hit the Tohoku areas on March 11th of 2011, Mika was having her relaxation program at a mental clinic in Sapporo, located three or four hundreds kilometers far from the epicenter. Although it was considerably far, those earthquakes were big enough to make some staffs cry in the shaken building. Mika made the members keep lying on the carpeted floor calmly with her gentle but assuring voice.
We were watching live on TV the dreadful tsunamis as high as 10 -20 meters were attacking the coastal areas, devastating everything and swallowing everybody there... It forced us to decide not only one's own escape route but also life trajectory that we should choose.
Six months later, we determined to re-start our Butoh lesson by introducing a long incubated approach "Butoh Therapy".
(Itto Morita: Oct.04, 2011)

Butoh Therapy starts ...

Most students and visitors of our Butoh studio were interested in Butoh as a performing art, and enjoyed our Butoh exercises a lot. But, some of then happened to betray their own personal feelings and emotions during our lesson: A sob or moan escaped out, or a cry came out. We sometimes witness somebody lying on the floor motionlessly with his/her body stiffened or shivering with fear. We would take those reactions as a sign of autonomous function to compensate body-mind unbalance.

Maybe, you need to know some of basic ideas about body-oriented psychotherapy. 1) Mental trauma is a physical, physiological, and psychological complex combined with negative past experiences and their memories. 2) Either a bodily movement (physical), or a certain type of physiological change, or a feeling or emotion (psychological), or remembering something (memory) can elicit panic reactions. 3) If it is safe enough or absolutely necessary, it might be time to confront with this body-mind complex through bodily movements. Butoh training consists of a series of physical exercises, but it may affect mental situation or revive past memories with unconscious bodily reactions. This becomes the entrance for Butoh therapy.

We had not imagined or intended this direction, but gradually came to realize that these unconscious reactions, deeply rooted in one's body-mind, affect Butoh performance itself beyond the sphere of artistic impression, and sometimes destroy boundaries or constrains as a performing art. We had to give this unfolding a name "Butoh therapy".

It is usually impossible to elicit unconscious reactions intentionally: All we do is wait until time is ripe while doing physically demanding Butoh exercises or body-learning exercises concerning to body-weight, breathing, convulsions, and etc. (It is unnecessary to expect unconscious reactions to occur anytime or every time because they are something given to you.)
And, we are experienced in these things as Butoh-ists and professional dance therapists.
(Itto Morita: Nov.5, 2011)

Mika teaching arm-standing exercise
at her studio in Sapporo.

Authentic Butoh chreography

I discarded these two cocepts "choreography and improvisation" as both of them are so insufficient to describe authentic Butoh performance. I wrote about this in one of my recent psychological paper "New understandings of Butoh Creation and Creative Aotopoietic Butoh - From Subconscious Hidden Observer to Perturbation of Body-Mind System" (PDF file, 2009)".

But, it seemed to be difficult for most readers to understand it, including psychologists, because it contains several unique ideas about the integration among contradictions. The two cocepts "choreography and improvisation" are used as a set of binary opposition, and people like to discuss Butoh in terms of these two concepts: "Was your Butoh performance choreographed one or improvisational ?" Our basic stance about this question has been the same: We are not performing intellectually enough to remember prescribed choreographed movements or to improvise as we are in different and altered states of mind...

It was said that Tatsumi Hijikata created 7 thousands different choreographical movements for his Butoh dance. Most of his Butoh pieces consisted of those total choreographical movements. I learned some of them when I started Butoh in 1980s, but I am not so much interested in replicating them in 21st century. Why ?

I believed that his Butoh pieces and those choreographed movements were so fresh and stimulating in those days that he succeeded to create a new dance form named Butoh. But, more than 60 years passed since 1950s, and 25 years passed after his death (he died in 1986).
If you are a real artist, do you think it is very much creative to replicate those traditional choreographed movements for your performance now ?

Learning old choreography is meaningful to get to know what Butoh was at those days in Japan. But, simple replication has no meanings now as an artistic activity. And, it should be clear that our point is about how to create something new under those Butoh tradition. Hence, one of my recent papers, shown above, is solely concerned with the structure of creativity. It shows why "choreography or improvisation", a pair of dichotic concept is very much dull in our perspiration for creativity...

(Itto Morita: Oct. 17, 2011)