Japanese Butoh versus Western Modern Dance
Ankoku Butoh –– or “Dance of Utter Darkness,” is a Japanese dance form that emerged from a restless post-World War 2 Japanese society. The dance form is deeply influenced by Western thinkers, philosophers, and artists who adopts dark Gnostic principles, such as Georges Bataille and Antonin Artaud1. Butoh consistently focuses on themes considered taboo such as sexuality, eroticism, and other dark explorations of the dark soul. The art form surfaced because during the post-World War 2 era, the Japanese society experiences various social unrest, therefore the art and culture becomes a channel of rebellion against not only the traditional Japanese art and cultural practices, but also that of the West. Because of the complex relationship between butoh and Western influences2, I am interested in exploring how Western modern dance influences butoh. Specifically, this paper will focus on how the training in modern dance influences training in butoh, while simultaneously touching upon issues such as the differences of pedagogies, the thematic elements, the movement qualities, and the different cognitive processes used in learning each dance form. Based on research on scholarly articles, performance observations, and interviews I conducted with several butoh artists who has modern dance experience and several who do not, I will argue that training in modern dance only helps develop the physicality for dancers to learn butoh but does not influence the internal sensation of the dance, which is an essential element of butoh as a dance form.
Butoh artists highly value the internal sensation of dancing butoh, including but not limited to the spiritual nature of the dance or the mindset with which dancers practice butoh. For example, dance scholar Catherine Curtin wrote that Hijikata Tatsumi –– butoh creator and pioneer –– created an art form that produces a sensation far more than just earthly. She writes: “[Hijikata] staged the body in all its immanence, in ecstasy, as a site of pleasures and in pain, disturbed by abjection and cruelty. On the other hand, he allowed for the possibility of transcendence, an opening to an encounter with states of consciousness that lie beyond notions of fixed and stable self, denied in modern society3.” Curtin also argued in her writing that through analyses of principles such as eroticism, transgression, death, physicality, and sexuality, Hijikata was able to observe and experience the raw and primal impulses of the human psyche and spirit, at the same time interweave “outer methods and internal states, visible appearances and invisible processes4,” which subsequently leads to a greater understanding of the self. Other examples of the emphasis on internal sensations are from interviews I conducted with Seattle-based butoh artists. Butoh artist Vanessa Skantze (who has no prior modern dance training) said that practicing butoh has raised her awareness that she is spiritually connected to all elements of life, she said “I am connected to everything, and everything is connected to me.” Butoh artist Helen Thorsen, who has previously trained in modern dance, also said that butoh allowed her to connect to herself, because she said dancing butoh meant accepting where she is at the moment, and that translated to her life. “[I’m] not trying to muscle my way through life, but accepting where I am at the moment and flow from there ... essentially butoh became like a spiritual practice,” Thorsen said. All these examples shows just how much butoh is a dance that allows artists to fully escape the self to explore the soul and the spirit. Because there is much emphasis on spirituality, the techniques or the external manifestation of the movements itself does not matter as much as the internal sensation.
This emphasis on the internal spiritual sensations is due to the pedagogy with which butoh artists are trained. In an article written by Butoh artist Rachel Sweeney, she...
Bibliography: Curtin, Catherine. “Recovering the Body and Expanding the Boundaries of Self in Japanese Butoh: Hijikata, Tatsumi, Georges Bataille and Antonin Artaud.” Contemporary Theatre Review, no. 20 (2010): 56-67.
Sweeney, Rachel. “Distilling principles - an investigation of the role of consciousness in butoh training.” Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, no. 3 (2012): 73.
Please join StudyMode to read the full document