I have been teaching Butoh in Sapporo and around the world for more than 20 years. I have at least one thing that I am very proud of in terms of my teaching method: Each Butoh trainee has developed his/her own dance and movement style, and their performances appear very different one another, and very stimulating even to me.
While watching Butoh performance, I tend to become disappointed sometimes to find that Butoh dancers move and dance as in the predictive and/or prescribed way. Although they could be beautiful and successful as a piece of Butoh dance, I don't like such performance in most cases because I can not perceive any reality in those movements.
Due to my long Butoh dance life, I think that I am capable, to some extent, of foreseeing what the dancer will do next by watching preparatory body movements. It badly spoils my interest of watching...
Because I have noticed tremendous differences among people in their body-mind systems, I tend to be attracted by each one's peculiarities. Physical dimensions are not at all the same, and the way o f thinking and recognizing things are very much different.
* I will explain later about how people perceive the world differently because of the different predominant channel of perception.
*Please check one of my recent papers "New understandings of Butoh Creation and Creative Autopoietic Butoh- From Subconscious Hidden Observer to Perturbation of Body-Mind System" (2010).
I strongly believe that everybody has to explore his/her own way of Butoh dance because of those differences in the body-mind system, and the prime and ultimate purpose of my Butoh training is to make clear those differences. I simply persuade my trainees to perform in their individualized way after giving them a kind of seed for body-mind exploration through basic Butoh exercises.
My Butoh exercises cover from the simple physical training , to how to perceive the world or to how to connect the unconscious world with the bodily reactions such as twitches, spasm, etc. But, the key point is to enhance one's sensibilities to his/her inner world of body-mind and to the outside world of light, sound, touch, fragrance, taste, weight, etc.
I have trained a lot of people, in Japan and in other countries. My Butoh dance teaching has been based upon the following three basics:
- Need of sensibility of your body-mind and the surroundings.
- Need of integration of gaps or discrepancies among your own body-mind and/or surroundings.
- Desire for your (spiritual) survival.
One Butoh dance boss in my long Butoh life worked very hard to earn money for having a Butoh performance stage or two in a year, and ended up with big debts on him (one of the heritages of Butoh since Hijikata era.) Butoh was not simply a dance for him, but something like prayer for his spiritual world... I am inclined to think that it would be a good Butoh performance if there are serious spiritual needs or desires of body-mind exploration for integration.
Oh, one more thing about the boss: He stopped eating gradually before a couple of weeks of the performance, and was starving badly before the performance, almost no energy to think or dance. Then, his performance was more than a dance...
I believe that it has almost no meaning right now to replicate the traditional Butoh dance movement patterns of the previous century although there are still a number of dancers doing in this way, especially outside Japan. I am rather skeptical about this status quo, and would like to see Butoh in terms of those three points. If you feel those three needs above, I believe that it is an authentic time to start Butoh.
"Arm Standing Exercise" is seemingly very simple exercise. Some people can get bored very soon while doing such simple exercises as "Opening a fist for 3 minutes", "Standing on one foot for several minutes", "Walking painfully slow", etc. If you cannot find any exciting things in these exercises, you should quit Butoh training. There are many other exciting things in the world.
Talking about the musculo-skeletal system of our body, the round edge of a bone is connected to another round edge of a bone such as fingers, knees, etc. It is not easy to stand an egg on the floor by placing it on its sharp edge. (Egg standing exercise used be popular in Butoh training.) Our joints are not square, and the slightest change of the direction of a bone may affect the whole body balance. Mika Takeuchi and other Butoh dancers in our group sometimes change slightly their body alignment while talking or sitting: They are learning their own body by changing alignments of bones, muscles, viscera, tendons, together with their quality such as stiffness, flexibility, extendedness, etc. Body Learning Therapy is one of our Butoh training fields, and claims that we need to learn more about our body. Like a infant who pours water into a cup and leans it to make it empty while perceiving their fingers, hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, etc, plus, the weight of the cup, water, the coldness, etc...
In Noguchi Taiso (Noguchi's physical exercise or gymnastics), gravity is the key concept in moving our own body, trying to move in the most effective or economical way. Michizo Noguchi abandoned the common idea of the musculoskeletal movement by showing that human body is not solid but rather liquid, by giving us a metaphor of "flexible leather bag" in which bones, muscles, viscera or brain are all floating. Once you have this unique and non-anatomical idea and feelings about your body and movement, your body starts moving with totally different quality.
"Ne-Nyo-Ro" is one of those Noguchi exercises as some of the readers may have experienced.
*Most western dance are based upon the anatomical idea about the body, so-called musculo-skeletal system. There is a clear-cut difference between them and Butoh in this point.
A young office lady complained to me that she could not serve tea smoothly. Her arms, hands, shoulders moved very awkwardly like a tin-made old robot. It seemed that she once failed to do such a chore in the natural way, and logically re-created the whole movement sequence for tea serving like a motion program for a robot. But, any motion program is merely a blueprint of the movement and lacks something: Adustment within the system and outside the system.
Whey you walk or move your arm, you have to listen to your muscle tone and joints' "squeaks" in order to make delicate adjustments while moving. You also have to pay much attention to the outer world: The cup has a certain weight and its own peculiar surface that can be very slippery, etc. You have to take these as-yet-unrecognized factors into consideration continuously.
This idea has been proposed by a psychologist, J.J. Gibson, and was named "affordance": The outer world greatly dictates our movements according to the qualities and physical dimensions of each object. In a sense, we are always communicating with the surrounding objects while relating to the outside world in touching, walking, carrying, etc...
We should not forget that we are always talking to the edge of a bone by using the edge of the adjoining bone. Hence, the terminology "Body Learning" comes out.
*Please check one of my recent papers "New understandings of Butoh Creation and Creative Autopoietic Butoh- From Subconscious Hidden Observer to Perturbation of Body-Mind System" (2010) about affordance.
Body-Learning is essential to avoid unnecessary collision with the unconscious.
Without enhancing the body-mind awareness, it can be very dangerous to go deep into the unconscious world filled with suppressed or forlorn emotions. Basically, we all have undergone unhappy pasts in one's own way because we could not avoind certain accidents and diseases or we could not choose our parents, the birth place or time of birth, etc. Almost everything has been given as "gifts" whether happy or not.
When we dare to explore our unconscious inner world, we are always forced to encounter with our physical/mental limitations. Determination to dare to try is very much critical for what will happen. We must be sensitive enough to tell subtle differences in our body-mind so as not to encouter unnecessary implosion or panic when we are not ready.
Finding new things in your body-mind is essential for Butoh.
Butoh trainees often ask me how to move their arms, hands, shoulders, trunk, legs, head, pelvis, foot, etc., when I show a simple movement and/or body alignment, etc. I sometimes come to feel there is a misunderstanding among trainees about my Butoh training, and would give some explanations concerning my Butoh lesson:
- The movement or movement sequence is a kind of starting point althoug it looks like a kind of choreography. I don't intend to choreograph, and I simply gave instruction as a seed to explore Butoh body-mind through movement patterns in Butoh.
- Self-exploratory attitude toward body-mind reactions is necessary because I usually don't give any detailed instructions. Without being instructed fully, you are put in an anxious state. But, it is the very state where you can and have to discover something fresh and new to you for yourself. Such Eureka or Aha experience intrigues you more to perceive yourself deep. Creativity is nurtured only by discovering by yourself.
It is not rare that well-trained professional dancers find it very difficult to be the master of his/her movement in a creative way, mainly because they have been so trained for years as to follow and actualize his/her choreographer's instructions as precisely as possible. In my Butoh lesson, there is no "job descriptions" basically about what to do or how to do, as long as trainees are experiencing honestly one's own body-mind. I believe that the whole process of this exploration and discovery makes the body-mind set for authentic Butoh.
* Not many but some professional dancers are suffering from information deficiency when I don't give clear-cut instructions about how to move. Some of them seem to lack the ability to perceive their own inner body and the emotions elicited in it. If you feel something like uneasiness or fear because of my insufficient information, it should affect your way of moving, and it is the starting point of your own Butoh.
However, some are really lacking this kind of connectivity among the body-mind-(emotion)-surroudings, or empathy in a broad sense, and tend to compose every movement only by thinking. Such information seekers can be a good dancer when choreographed fully, but it is not the way in Butoh.
Rigorous movements based upon the enhanced body-mind awareness
Dance critics sometimes told us that our movements and performance are very rigorous with delicate and precise movements. I am very pleased to hear that, because we are very anxious about delicate and small movements in general. But, in order to avoid a common misunderstanding among non-Butoh dancers about this statement, I need to clarify what authentically small and delicate movements are, in contrast with apparent small movements by choreography.
"Opening a fist" exercise is a simple exercise to explore your own body-mind:
When you undergo this exercise several times, you will understand that you learned a lot about how the joints, muscles, tendons work and how your mind-set or wish affects to the fist opening movement. Body-mind awareness is enhanced through these exploratory and discovering experiences concerning each part of your body.
- Grasp your five fingers of your right hand and make a fist.
- Opening your fist continuously for three minutes is the basic requirement.
- The fist naturally begins to swell when you relieve the muscle tension from your fist.
- You perceive squeaky extending movements in your finger joints.
- The fingers gradually lose their naturally extending energy, and you have to find out once again how you realize the finger extending movements.
- There are at least three ways to actualize this: by controlling the finger extending movements, or by using the weight of fingers, or by giving a lot of energy to the fingers.
- Why not changing your posture or angle of your arm, or why not changing your breathing pattern, or why not strongly wishing that fingers should extend with anger or tears or desperation, etc...
One of other simple exercises to enhance your body-mind awareness is the slow stretching:
Lean your head to the right or left side by using your head weight. The head is heavy, and your neck muscles and tendons in the upper side of your neck are gradually stretched. Anatomical studies claim that it takes 30-40 seconds for a tendon to start extending naturally. The tendon comprises three parts in terms of its strength, two edges and the middle part. While the middle part is a kind of a loose spring and extends easily, the edges are a hard one to extend. By keeping the tendon under strain for some time, the hard edges gradually start extending as if it starts melting like a candy.
Slow movements are significant for enhancing the body-mind awareness.
Awareness of the weight of each part of body is the key concept in Noguchi Taiso.
You can enjoy this anatomical finding in your own body if you take time to perceive well. When you move very slowly, there will be a lot of occasions to perceive this kind of bodily facts one by one while noticing what other parts of your body react in the head leaning movement.
These small and delicate movements are not obtained by simple choreographic instructions. Rather, choreography should come after you get enhanced body-mind awareness if necessary.
Improvisation vs. Choreography in Butoh
The terms "improvisation" and "choreography" always annoy me when requested to give explanations about how we compose our Butoh dance piece in terms these two words: "Is your dance piece a choreographed one or improvisational ?"
*Please check one of my recent papers again about this contrast: "New understandings of Butoh Creation and Creative Autopoietic Butoh- From Subconscious Hidden Observer to Perturbation of Body-Mind System" (2010)
The original meaning of choreography is based on the fact that there are basic fixed movements or posture patterns in a given dance form. Hijikata's Butoh style had changed three or four times: At some period he choreographed very strictly, at another period he preferred so-called "happening". Apart from this, it is said that Hijikata created about 5000-6000 movement sequence patterns, and Yoko Ashikawa, one of his best female disciples, reportedly, could replicate about 3000 patterns.
Before jumping to a simple conclusion that Butoh was based upon choreography, we have to notice that, before attaining several thousands of movement patterns, Hijikata created utterly new movements or postures that had not existed in the modern dance world. To use an analogy, while the modern dance and ballet use the already existing alphabet characters to compose a new sequence of movement, Hijikata created utterly new letters first, and composed a sequence of movement by using those "strange" new letters.
I think that seemingly important two terms "improvisation" and "choreography" have already lost its evaluating power to grasp a dance form, or at least they are very insufficient to grasp Butoh. As a matter of fact, all I do with Mika, my Butoh partner, beforehand in our performance is a pre-arrangement about when and how she is supposed to appear or leave. During our performance, she dances in her own way as she likes, and I do mine. Of course, we talk one another in our practice about what kind of movement is good or suitable, but it is not choreography but suggestions or comments. We explore our own movements, and usually start exploring new movements or postures that would satisfy both of us more. Hence, we have never bored with our performance because both of us don't know exactly what will happen next.
* I am omitting here the descriptions about how I came to be urged to do a certain movement during our performance.
One of the most important characteristics of Butoh comes from this creative process: You are entitled to create any movements or postures or any combination patters that don't exist so far.
In the world of performing arts, the creation process of this kind always have to rely upon how much and deep you experience your own body-mind, and the body-mind sensitivity determines the quality of Butoh dance, whether it is improvisation or choreography.
*There are many factors or parts in our body that are ignored by intentional choreography. But, those unattended factors or body parts play a significant role in an unnoticeable way. If you persist any choreography too much, it always runs the risk of over-intellectualization and loss of vibrant factors during performance. Choreographers only see what they choreograph, but the audience can see what choreographers never noticed.
Predominant channel or mode of perception