[-empyre-] : butoh

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Wed Oct 5 06:28:45 EST 2011

There is a scene in Peter Sempel’s cult film from the early 90s, "Just Visiting this Planet," which took my breath away when I first saw it in a run-down cultural arts center in Dresden, 
not too long after the Wall had come down and traveling to the former communist East of Germany reopened some windows into the historical past, 
allowing also rediscovery of an early phase of modern dance and art practically forgotten and buried in the ruins of a long and
devastated 20th century. In this scene, a white horse is seen galloping down Broadway Avenue (New York City),
surely an apparition and yet, repeatedly, associated with the equally ghostly appearance of 
Ohno Kazuo dancing a fragile impression of his mother or the spirit of another 
influential woman in his life, La Argentina. It appeared that Ohno, 
one of the pioneers of butoh, who passed away in 
2010 aged 103 years, was improvising on 
some rooftop (or was it a side walk?), 
dressed in a loose white shift 
and floating above 
the street where 
the horse 
was seen,

a rose delicately held in his hand and the other hand drawing invisible lines into night sky. Now he bends, his head lowering down and the long arms are stretched out, he dances 
becoming a flower, he blossoms in the night. As the scene of this apparitional dance lingers in the imagination, the filmmaker cuts to a scene
where we see Blixa Bargeld, the lead singer of the experimental band Einstürzende Neubauten, sing a capella a harrowing 
Schubert song from "Die Winterreise," a lyrical composition that evokes a darkly desolate emotional landscape,
and time, as if frozen cold and yet galloping
along, with drops of melodic lines
irregular phrasings, crippled

After this musical entr’acte, the film returns to Ohno, showing a sequence of close ups in which attention is drawn to the dancer’s feet, as he floats on a side walk, in the night.


Krems 2011, September 1..

Ohno Yoshito, the son 
of the late Ohno Kazuo, enters the studio space 
and announces he will dance a brief prayer, before opening his workshop 
demonstration and his recollections of the long history of butoh, from the beginnings with Hijikata.
When he begins the dance of prayer, and slowly moves in a circular motion, he now wears a rabbit costume, or rather, a small white 
embroidered cape and a headband with (children's) plush rabbit ears.  For a few moments, I think he is dancing becoming rabbit, but it cannot be, there is too much irony for me.
But the irony slows down, and over the the course of the next hour, two hours, I listen to the movement and the stories that Ohno tells, and the next day, in the studio, I will be given a rose.
I have to start again, from a place that can leave irony behind or pathos, and even as I resist regression, and child-like wondering at the world and at being alive moving with a beautiful synthetic rose,
I move there with the others, being inside even as I imagine not belonging to such space. In the workshop, we change rhythms, and we probably become aware of our emotions, through movement above all, not
sound, or memory. But movement is also memory, and motion is like a wave or a compression of many (different) waves.  Ohno after the rabbit shows us a print of Hokusai's Fugaku sanjurokkei: Kanagawaoki namiura
(The Great Wave off Kanagawa), and points to its contrasts: the drawing shows the vast power of nature (the waves appear larger than Mount Fuji) and relative smallness of humans  (the heads of a boat crew are are as small as speckles of the foam).  The sea is splashing into a chaotic light foam to be dispersed by the wind.

Johannes Birringer

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