awaiting the dragon-god’s foot-stomping thresher

grimacing, crouching, crying, screaming, flying ashtrays & other dance moves in butoh

photos by david ethan kuhlmann

For years I have been fascinated by the strange, dark dance called butoh, an eclectic mélange of contemporary dance, performance art and traditional theatre created in Japan following the Second World War by Tatsumi Hijikata. In the beginning, I read about it, saw professional troupes perform it in extravagant showpieces that some in the genre referred to dismissively as “TV butoh,” and watched documentaries about it, but I still didn’t feel I really understood where it came from, what it meant, and why it affected me so.

… Although the impact of butoh in the second half of the twentieth century infused contemporary performance arts – especially dance, and especially in the Western world – few young performers now recognize its harsh influence, which was originally obscene, brutal, and politically and artistically subversive, and very few indeed have had the opportunity to experience its power in undiluted form. Today I have asked Koichi and Hiroko to conduct a master class in classical butoh at my university because I want to give my students the gift Hiroko and Koichi gave me when I first worked with them: a sense of its lineage.

Dustin W. Leavitt contributes articles, essays and critical reviews about Asia, photography and travel, among other subjects, to a variety of publications. His essays have appeared in Best Travel Writing the last three years. He teaches creative writing at the University of Redlands, near Los Angeles, California.

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