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Butoh is a form of expression born in Japan that developed after the Second World War under the direction of Hijikata Tatsumi. This movement was greatly influenced by the avant-garde European movements of the 20s and 30s, and it mixes various artist forms such as theater, dance, mime, voice, performance, visual arts … This work is done on a seeking movement from physical body sensation, image, and movement, never separated from each other.

Research about Butoh

At the end of 2015, I came to Japan with a goal on the top of my list: to research the avant-garde art of the early twentieth century in Japan called butoh. At that time I knew very little, but one way or another, I had to study it. I had seen a performance of Sankai Juku in France a few years ago and I had a very special impression after this show: I felt like in another dimension of space and time, it was the first time I could hear that deep, peaceful silence at the end of a show. A golden silence reigned in the room for nearly 60 seconds before the start of the applause.

Hijikata Tatsumi Archive at Keio University

Since then, my decision was made. Butoh-related people and performances kept coming to me: I knew the universe was supporting me in that direction. As soon as I arrived in Japan, I immediately went to Kazuo Ohno's studio where his son Yoshito still teaches, and I quickly presented myself in Hijikata Tatsumi archives at Keio University in Tokyo presenting my personal research project, without bottom or support other than my strong motivation. Thanks to the welcome and kindness of the director of archives, I was able to carry out my research there for more than a year and I still go there to consult documents regularly.

How to define what butoh is?

Butoh, also written "butoh", is a complex discipline that can not be enclosed by a definition. It is above all a bodily, ego-free experience in which we explore our connection with space, trying to be one with the world and the cosmos. It is sometimes a search for dehumanization, in which we evolve from feelings and physical sensations, images, movement, without ever using one of the elements alone.
I would also say that it is a philosophy of life .. No word that I could use here will be worth the experimentation of butoh itself, bodily. However, I am trying to share my experience with this discipline, which seems to be different for everyone. We find as many definitions as dancers today, but the minds and the foundations remain globally the same.

Who created butoh ?

This innovative movement was founded by HIJIKATA Tatsumi, and also benefited from the close collaboration of Kazuo Ohno. It was the fruit of a whole socio-political context of the 1960s in Japan, but strongly nourished by avant-garde European movements of the 1920s and 1950s. Indeed, HIJIKATA Tatsumi was rather invested in the Dadaism movement, and his work came in a logical succession of this great artistic movement of the early twentieth. Butoh often mixes various arts such as dance, theater, plastic arts, literature … and it was first attributed the name "Ankoku butô", or dance of darkness. There are traces of various beliefs such as Shinto and Buddhism.

My story with butoh

I did not look for butoh, butoh came to me. When I met him, it was as if I already knew him. I have been sensitized to the surrealist and dadaist world since very young. Indeed, my mother, still a painter in my little child, very quickly introduced me to the concepts present in this rich artistic and literary movement. The latter has always been a great source of creative inspiration for me. Everything that touched near or far surrealism came to me … The butoh is in fact linked, on the part of Hijikata Tatsumi himself.

In the current state of my research, I like to see butoh as a philosophy of life: the more I experiment it in class (with Yoshito Ohno, Natsu Nakagima, Yuri Seisaku) or study it in the Hijikata Tatsumi archives at Keio University, the more it is clear that it’s not just a dance, theater, or technique. It’s a whole world in which you have to dive. For Hijikata Tatsumi, it was above all an experiment, which did not have a name originally defined. The name of ankoku buto (dance of darkness) came only later, following Kinjiki’s performance dating back to 1959 based on a novel by Yukio Mishima. For Yoshito Ohno it is a prayer, “inaru”, for a better world. He spoke to us about his decision to “dedicate himself” to butoh, after a long pause from 1969 to 1986, marked by a ceremony with his family during which he shaved his skull symbolically. More than a discipline, butô is an integral part of his life.

Yoshito Ohno


One day, I asked Yoshito Ohno after an interview that I filmed: “Yoshito sensei, for you, what is butoh?” (I still wonder in spite of all my research how to explain it, when one asks me). And he answered me, “a prayer, what about you?” And another of the students answered for me, in English, with the awkward voluntary translation that corresponds to the touching answer that I had: “It’s you.What you do is butoh.your heart makes sense, Well, that’s it. ” When Natsu Nakagima, she often answers that she is still wondering about the subject. Indeed, it is good that butoh is never locked up. It includes rules of work, mistakes in which not to fall, like falling into the ego …

We can make many parallels between the butoh and the theater of the absurd Antonin Artaud, especially for the absence of Ego, the dehumanization.

I will continue writing on the subject, however I need more perspective to share more, my vision is changing and evolving every day. In addition, many very detailed books on the subject already exist. My goal is not to take back these works, but to share my research and my experience of “dancer” buto, and give a global image to the general public out of clichés.

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