The Shadow Dance
What is Butoh? (舞踏 Butō; The dance of darkness)
The short answer? A Zen Dance Practice. Zen deals with the present, and Butoh is a 'dance of darkness'. And so the dance uses the space, philosophy and practice of Zen, to show light on and honour the hidden aspects of self, life, and experience. It is exploratory, experimental, and contemplative, a true Mystic Art.
Wikipedia states: - "Common features of the art form include playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, extreme or absurd environments, and is traditionally performed in white body makeup with slow hyper-controlled motion. However, with time Butoh groups are increasingly being formed around the world, with their various aesthetic ideals and intentions"
The core of this practice is consciousness as the creative medium. The present spacial matrix is the canvas, and the human spirit is the paint.
Butoh is an experimental dance theater practice that came out of Japan after the second world war. In many ways it is a response to the cultural context of that time: the defeat of Japan in the war, the horror of the nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and deeply felt and unexpressed anti-government sentiment among the young and the arts.
Kazuo Ohno, and Tatsumi Hijikata are recognized as the founders of the Butoh movement. That they are such different performers demonstrates the variation and individualistic nature of Butoh. Both were trained dancers and performers from diverse artistic and technical backgrounds.
Through the syncretic nature of deep embodiment practice and use of altered states of consciousness, Butoh is related to shamanic trance practices, mythic storytelling and various spiritual traditions.
The Art of Butoh Dance
As an art form, Butoh is a phenomena of many forms. It can be highly technical, highly individualistic and highly creative. It can be dark, ugly, disturbing and beautiful. As art is a way of storytelling, so Butoh offers an opportunity to tell a the story of the gritty realism and usually unseen parts of the human experience.
Further, Butoh is about our relationship to the otherworld, resonance with the non-human experiences beneath, within, and beyond the normal human culture and identity.
By connecting the internal and external worlds through practice and performance, Butoh can help to integrate and heal the profound disconnect that so many face and suffer from. We can look to psychotherapy, expressive therapy, and the neuroscience of perception, body-maps and meditation traditions to understand the health benefits of Butoh. As a movement awareness practice, the dance can develop better health, and awareness, unblock tension and loosen the grip of the mind.
The aesthetic basis of Butoh is just the surface of a deeper creative alchemy; one where resources are explored, connected with and expressed. These resources can be emotional, physical, spiritual or narrative. The richness offered by Butoh is a deepening of life and the strength of the embodied experience.
Myth, Psyche and Narrative
The Shadow, in Jungian psychology, refers to an unconscious aspect of a person's psyche, or indeed a culture: a part as yet unknown. The archetype of the tracker, the wildling, the shaman, the trickster and the fool all have a strong role in the practice of Butoh. These characters are all in some way in allegiance with a mystery, something hidden but peripheral. In the same way, the butoh dancer calls on such hidden experiences within, and that are present in the environment, culture or community.
We use lots of different language to talk about this experience, but what remains in common is the familiarization with the interface between the known and the unknown.
Subtle Body Techniques - For practicing Butoh
Butoh is dance, and it is highly nuanced and expressive. There is such an array of movement that the human body is capable of, and Butoh really makes no distinction about what is useful. The more body awareness and control, the deeper and more flexible the non-verbal communication. Subtle movement, proprioceptive control, physical theater, mime, isolation and facial expression are all part of Butoh. The dance can lend itself to a very deep level of practice, and as such its forms are many and varied.
With respect for my teacher Rhizome Lee at the school of Subbody Resonance Butoh Himalaya in Dharamsala, (HP)
In basic terms, Subbody means performance and practice from a state of very sensitive and 'subtle' consciousness.
Further: A practice of changing ones state of consciousness, to access deeper dimensions of experience: With the subtle state (just like meditation) there is access to dormant impulses and what we call 'Qualia' (basically a word which could mean emotion, memory, physical sensation, imagination, impulse).
The subtle experience contains a plethora of options to move through, from a deepening internal landscape, to using the spacial matrix as a medium for expression.
Techniques including but not limited to:
Spacial Matrix Awareness
Central Axis Orientation
Kugutsu - Puppet work
Hip foot and leg strength
Sustained body awareness
Group awareness and mimicry
Small increment focus
Subbody and Character work
Some diverse and powerful Butoh: