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Metamorphic Dance and Global Alchemy

Sondra Fraleigh

Publication Year: 2010

Both a refraction of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a protest against Western values, butoh is a form of Japanese dance theater that emerged in the aftermath of World War II. Sondra Fraleigh chronicles the growth of this provocative art form from its midcentury founding under a sign of darkness to its assimilation in the twenty-first century as a poignant performance medium with philosophical and political implications. Employing intellectual and aesthetic perspectives to reveal the origins, major figures, and international development of the dance, Fraleigh documents the range and variety of butoh artists around the world with first-hand knowledge of butoh performances from 1973 to 2008.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-8

Alchemy is an early unscientific form of chemistry exploring the power of enchantment and transformation. Alchemists sought the conversion of base metals into gold and a universal cure for disease, just as butoh-ka (butoh dancers) attend to metamorphosis and healing through the body. ...

Part One: Alchemy and Morphology

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Chapter 1. Butoh Alchemy

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pp. 11-36

Butoh is a form of dance theater born in Japan out of the turmoil of the post– World War II era, partly as a refraction of America’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and more generally in protest of Western materialism: “I don’t want a bad check called democracy,” is how butoh founder Hijikata Tatsumi sometimes put it. ...

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Chapter 2. The Morphology of Butoh

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pp. 37-62

There are basically three kinds of rocks in the world: sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic. Igneous rocks come from volcanoes and consist of melted rock or magma belched out of the earth’s mantle. . . . Sedimentary rock is derived from combining tiny particles into one large rock. . . . Metamorphic rocks form when a mineral is subjected to intense heat ...

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Chapter 3. Is Butoh a Philosophy?

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pp. 63-78

Hijikata Tatsumi said butoh was not a philosophy but that “someday it might be.”1 The previous chapter has already pursued some philosophical questions concerning morphology, how the body is conceived and presented in butoh, especially its nondualistic basis. We also considered the bodily lived ambiguity of butoh, its unfinished and vulnerable aspects. ...

Part Two: Alchemists: Essays and Poetry on Transformation

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1. One Thousand Days of Sunshine and Peace

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pp. 81-90

Hijikata is the dark soul and architectural genius of butoh. One of his final performances was his solo “Leprosy” in his dance Summer Storm, performed by his company in the Westside Auditorium at Kyoto University in 1973. A year earlier, his dance A Story of Smallpox (1972) also connected with thematics of disease. ...

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2. Whole World Friend

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pp. 91-101

Ohno Kazuo, a well-traveled, world-famous performer by 1993, was presented as a treasure of Japan for an international audience in Tokyo at the JADE festival, which drew dance scholars and performers from Asia, America, and Europe. The final ceremony and performance of August 7 featured six of Japan’s celebrated elderly dancers, ...

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3. History Lessons

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pp. 102-111

Scratch butoh, and you will find the original modern dance movement underneath. We have already observed that butoh founders Ohno Kazuo and Hijikata Tatsumi both studied modern forms, especially as represented in German Expressionism. Although they departed considerably from this early source of their dance training, it nevertheless informed their work. ...

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4. Crocodile Time

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pp. 112-115

Furukawa Anzu has studied modern dance, ballet, and butoh, as we see through the blend of styles in her solo dance concert The Crocodile Time. Her nonliteral characters, or anticharacters, transform continuously and collect emotion through time and interpretation. One cannot name them; they are signs and transparencies. ...

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5. Goya La Quinto del Sordo

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pp. 116-122

Absurdity and the grotesque mark German Expressionism and butoh—as well as Pina Bausch’s Neoexpressionist work. Surpassing Expressionism, however, the dark side of butoh is a yin-yang transformer of reality. Butoh helps bridge the shadow self with the ego as it makes the unconscious conscious, risking bedlam and testing the erotic nature of the body. ...

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6. The Sounding Bell

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pp. 123-128

Sumida River is a haunting dance created especially for Denise Fujiwara of Toronto by choreographer Nakajima Natsu of Tokyo, one of the core founders of butoh in close association with Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo. Based on a popular Noh drama, Sumida River could be called Butoh-Noh, ...

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7. Ancient Dance and Headless

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pp. 129-134

Tamano Koichi and Tamano Hiroko formed Harupin-Ha Butoh Company in Berkeley, California, in 1987 when they relocated from Tokyo, Japan. They are well known to international audiences, performing with the esteemed Japanese musician Kitaro on his world tour in 2000. ...

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8. Salt

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pp. 135-138

There can be serendipity in butoh. This is apparent in the work of Ledoh, the director of the performance community Salt Farm in San Francisco. Ledoh was born into the Ka-Ren community, Burma’s largest ethnic minority. Since returning to the United States after a period of intensive study in Japan with butoh adept Katsura Kan, Ledoh has performed widely. ...

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9. Da Vinci

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pp. 139-148

“Woman is female to the extent that she feels herself as such,” says Simone de Beauvoir in her 1949 publication The Second Sex. De Beauvoir does not believe the feminine is an unchanging essence.1 In contrast to this view is Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae, published in 1990, which stresses sexual stereotypes. ...

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10. The Cosmos in Every Corner

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pp. 149-154

Takenouchi Atsushi has been working on his own Jinen Butoh (Dance with Nature) since 1986. “Everything is already dancing,” he told me in an interview in 2003. “I simply find the dance that is already happening.” Jinen is a Japanese word that points to our cosmic connections, as Takenouchi’s work reflects. ...

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11. Risky Plastic

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pp. 155-160

“Yoshioka Yumiko is a shaman for our time,” says Masayuki Fujikawa, a lighting designer from Tokyo who collaborates with Yoshioka and knows her work well. “She glows with the sparks that scream when sky and earth meet in her empty body. She embodies the present moment, a gift from heaven.” ...

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12. Fine Bone China

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pp. 161-166

Frances Barbe, an Australian dancer living in London, enters the space of her dance Fine Bone China (2004) with her white cup lightly clattering in its saucer as she walks. Paintings of colonial women inspire this dance as well as Barbe’s own experience of the dualisms of white Australia, she told me in an interview. ...

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13. Moving MA

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pp. 167-171

Suzuki Daisetz in Zen and Japanese Culture says that Zen prizes art over the regulations of morality. I don’t think this means that Zen is amoral, just that it looks to art for inspiration and not toward ethics. Of Zen’s deep connection to art, Suzuki goes further. He says it has been a favorite “trick” of Japanese artists to show beauty in the form of imperfection or ugliness. ...

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14. Weak with Spirit

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pp. 172-182

It is July 2, 2006, and my sixty-seventh birthday. I have just returned from Japan where I spent June 14 in Yokohama with legendary father-and-son butoh dancers, Ohno Kazuo-sensei and his son Ohno Yoshito. (In Japan, the surname comes first, and sensei means “teacher.”) Sensei will be one hundred years old in October, and Yoshito at sixty-eight is one year older than I. ...

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15. Waking Woman

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pp. 183-186

Imagine that your fears are mirrored back to you and ricochet out toward the world or, in the case of theater, toward the audience, and you will grasp the zero point of Lani Weissbach’s dance. In Waking Woman/Messy Beauty, she wrestles with fear and obsession: This is what comes to me now in the aftermath of her Chicago performance at Links Hall on March 18, 2006. ...

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16. Torn

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pp. 187-190

Torn is a work for Robert Bingham choreographed by Lani Fand Weissbach, whose work we just visited in the previous essay. Torn has been performed in several venues in New York, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Here we take three perspectives on the dance: that of the choreographer, that of the dancer, and that of the writer as witness. ...

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17. Butoh Ritual Mexicano

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pp. 191-195

Diego Piñón was born in Mexico City in 1957. He comes from the Purepecha culture, now identified with the Tarascan Indians, and was exposed as a child to their primal dances. The Purepecha resisted Spanish culture, even retaining their own language. When I interviewed him in March 2006 in Chicago, Piñón told me that he doesn’t remember a time when he did not dance. ...

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18. Mourning the Earth

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pp. 196-200

Foreshortened in perspective, two dancers lie on a leaf-strewn stage, feet facing to the back and heads facing us. Their legs and hips are covered with black fur, and their bare chests and faces are powdered white. Fragrant branches lie on the floor in front of the stage, and the stage itself is covered with leaves and dark earth. ...

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19. Quick Silver

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pp. 201-204

Murobushi Ko trained and performed with butoh’s creator Hijikata Tatsumi and was a founding member of the long-running Dairakudakan butoh company. Now Murobushi leads the Edge Company from his base in Japan and tours internationally. He performed the U.S. premiere of his solo Quick Silver at the Theater for the New City in New York on November 9, 2007. ...

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20. Daemon of the Riverbank

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pp. 205-210

Kei Takei lived in New York and performed throughout America for many years. Now she lives in Tokyo and continues to perform internationally. In this essay, I use her familiar stage name, first name first, and depart from the common reverse order, family name first, used in Japan. ...

Part Three: Ursprung Unfinished

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21. Ursprung

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pp. 213-217

Ursprung is German, that favorite word of Martin Heidegger’s metaphysics. It means “origin” in the sense of a leap, an auspicious beginning that springs up as from a foot or from a spring of water. An ursprung is not just any beginning; it is a genuine beginning, a first cause, just as we know that first causes and origins are the subjects of metaphysics. ...

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22. Kuu (Emptiness)

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pp. 218-226

It is October 27, 2007, and Ohno Kazuo’s birthday. He is 101. Ohno Yoshito, his son, stands like a statue with his head bowed and his back to the audience as we enter and take our seats for the premier of his work Kuu (Emptiness) at the CAVE New York Butoh Festival.1 Ohno is framed by a creamy white stage, and his suit is the same color, ...

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Biographies of Dancers

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pp. 227-236

Frances Barbe (born 1971), a performer and choreographer living in London, is one of the major non-Japanese exponents of butoh and butoh-influenced dance. She has trained in butoh since 1992, originally in Australia, then in Japan, and most recently in Germany with Endo Tadashi, with whom she has performed since 1997. …


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pp. 237-246


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pp. 247-252


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pp. 253-264

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090134
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252035531

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2010