Butoh: A Contemporary Dance of Darkness

  • By the end of World War II, a modern art form arose including playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics and an extreme or absurd environment. It was known as “butoh” which encompassed a variety of techniques and activities performed in different movements. Because of its unique style and collaboration of many artforms, it is difficult to define.

    How did Butoh Start?

    Butoh started with two key founders, Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo. Tatsumi developed his dance form in the 1950s. His highly choreographed styles were based on his childhood memories of his home in the northern part of Japan. Ohno is also a Japanese dancer who became a guru and an inspirational figure in butoh later on. They both studied in Germany and upon returning to Japan, they sought a new form of Japanese expression with a connection to Japanese culture and without copying the western style. The dance form was built on a crude physical gesture with the first performances being banned due to their provocative and wild style.

    Butoh performers wear white make-up and display slow, hyper-controlled motions. Compared to traditional Japanese dance, the movement in butoh allows the body to express itself naturally. It looks more like the reenactment of the movement of common people rather than expert dancers. During the performance, the face and body are distorted to allow it to move naturally.

    Butoh Exercises

    A lot of debate arose concerning the movement of butoh. Most Japanese exercises have a specific Japanese shape or postures assigned to them, but butoh is not seen as a specific movement cue but rather just a state of mind or feeling that influences the body directly or indirectly. There have been many groups which have been influenced by Hijikata’s movements. It has even gone international with notable European masters. Some of the popular butoh artists include Akaji Maro, Ushio Amagatsu, Min Tanaka, Tadashi Endo, Edoheart and Atsushi Takenouchi.

    Related Articles:
    Japanese dances and music, the traditional types
    Traditional Japanese Dance–Drama Kabuki: Types and Elements