- Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo by Sondra Fraleigh and Tamah Nakamura
A reissue of the 2006 book of the same name, Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo is part of the Routledge Performance Practitioner series' goal to provide "initial exploration" into major contemporary [End Page 266] artistic practices. In this case, the subject is butoh, the post-World War II Japanese dance movement which embraces and showcases the imperfect human body. Partially a response to the devastation of the atomic bomb, butoh has been dubbed "the dance of darkness," as its performers' twisted bodies and contorted faces engage and embody the space between life and death. Thanks to overseas attention, today butoh has evolved into a multifaceted international art form and an integral player in the world of modern dance. The result of this growth made defining the specifics of butoh as an artistic practice quite difficult. In this text, authors Sondra Fraleigh and Tamah Nakamura seek to provide a resource that can provide new readers a suitable introduction to butoh. Drawing on years of research and personal experiences, Fraleigh and Nakamura examine the enduring legacies of butoh pioneers Hijikata Tatsumi and Kazuo Ohno, the sociopolitical postwar landscape that helped shape the art form, and some of the contemporary artists that continue its practice. Structured as a series of interrelated essays, Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo provides an ambitious look into butoh; however, poor editing and a lack of unified voice make the read a challenge for the uninitiated.
A central goal of Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo is dispelling the myth that the "darkness" of butoh is unequivocally macabre—it posits there is light within the form's darkness. Admittedly however, Hijikata's contribution, as it is examined, is certainly on the darker side; it is viewed through his fierce anti-Western politics and obsession with dance as a form of sacrifice, stemming from his poverty-stricken childhood in rural wartime Japan. Ohno however, is portrayed through his interest in dance as a means for rebirth and healing, an attempt to reconcile hardships he faced as a soldier in World War II. As Ohno is largely responsible for butoh's extended life outside of Japan (Hijikata died early at age fifty-eight in 1986 and never left the country), the fourth chapter of the book—which offers practical exercises for the modern dancer, introduces contemporary butoh performers, and examines butoh as a form of dance therapy—is undeniably framed by Ohno's version of butoh.
While the two artists saw butoh's potential differently, the authors suggest a common theme of "metamorphosis" which provides a guiding framework for how butoh's darkness is traversed. It informs the way the dance is created and, unlike the finished and directed quality of ballet, a butoh performance is always in process. It is expressly concerned with occupying a state of flux, which Hijikata and Ohno called a "dance experience," through instances of embodied imagery that the audience is free to process independently. Chapter 2 investigates how Hijikata's and, to a lesser extent Ohno's, butoh-fu, written [End Page 267] poetry and collected images that inspire gestures and movement, provide a means for embodying such imagery. Hijikata's butoh-fu are characterized as the impetus for his role as a choreographer and are the source for some of butoh's recognizable patterns such as the "ash pillar," in which a dancer is to move as if they are a pillar of ash, slowly disintegrating. Ohno's butoh-fu, in contrast, are viewed as examples of effective means for inspiring improvisational dance in which Ohno excelled. Chapter 3 looks specifically at seminal dance pieces that define butoh's metamorphosis in practice, and again highlight the different perspectives that guided Hijikata and Ohno. While works like Hijikata's Forbidden Colors (1959) and Rebellion of the Body (1968) demonstrate the dark, earthy, and provocative side of butoh, Ohno's Admiring La Argentina (1977) and Water Lilies (1987) present a softer, more spiritual encounter.
As the authors...