In the last three years, I interviewed a number of artists and dancers directly or indirectly linked to Butoh. I have published most of these conversations on this blog at some point so as to share these exchanges publicly.
Today I am publishing a conversation I had with Yukio Waguri, one of the main dancers working with Tatsumi Hijikata in the 1970s. Waguri continues to teach, dance and discuss his experiences of this important time in the choreographic development of Butoh.
In this interview we discuss in great depth the development of Butoh-Fu by Hijikata as well as considering the implications of a choreographic system.
This conversation was facilitated by the Hijikata Archive at the Art Centre, Keio University. I wish to sincerely thank Mr Takashi Morishita for organising this interview and offering the meeting room and especially a very sincere thank you to Yu Homma who was present through out the conversation and provided an excellent translation of the more complex aspects of this interview.
7 August 2014, Hijikata Archive, Art Centre, Keio University, Tokyo
After many months of talking, transcribing, correcting, editing, I have finally got a manageable shorter version of the outcome of many conversations with Ko Murobushi which took place between December 2013 and October 2014. As part of my series of interviews with Butoh-related artists, this opens up the topic onto Ko’s original take on his practice, one that has defined him primarily as a ‘wanderer’ and one who questions and renews his approach through the act of wandering.
Navigating the city and absorbing the waves with a black flag
On 9 November 2014, I performed Black March Berlin, joined at various points by a group of artist collaborators and participant walkers. It was the fourth in a series of walking performances that began in Tokyo in 2012, and this time in Berlin it coincided with the 25 year anniversary celebrations of the Fall of the Berlin Wall: this coincidence though vaguely planned and not, brought this performance action, which up to now has been a fairly low-key manifestation in public space, into the very public eye of large crowds that had gathered to mark this event. It opened up Black March in every sense: from extreme exposure, to intense exchange.
Waking up in darkness, heading north in the early tunnels and trains
Sleepers and chatterers and so much to say at seven am.
Opposite me senseless anger stamps a foot, glares, and soon forgets the cause
Eyes closing, tremors engulf him: a quaking body, a chattering silent jaw
Is it the cold, or the nervous frustrations of an ‘aim-less’ body, gnawing itself?
In the early grey hush
Black absorbs all the light of slanting glances
A dark figure exposed.
At least five shades of black.
At 9 November Platz, the top of Bornhölmer Straße I unfurled the black banner from its long stake. Under the eyes of the TV crews, understudies for the, somewhat altered not quite obsolete, role of surveillance: a radio reporter ran over to describe me as a ‘sad’ figure on such a festive day.
Why is ‘black’ sad? Black simply absorbs all light and perhaps invites us to not just ‘look’ at things with the all too easy assistance of the light, but challenges us to grope into the dark for what is invisible, hidden, introverted, unseen. He agreed and withdrew his comment, wishing me a good walk.
Marching towards Mauer Park I was suddenly overwhelmed by a choking wave of excitement at the freedom I felt being able to walk in a space, where I would have not so long ago been in the shadow of a 3.6 metre wall, barbed wire, and surveillance cameras, within spitting distance of armed patrols, security dogs: today I could walk with this huge provocative symbol flying above me, being solely responsible for what trouble I might stir up.
Walking south along the path of the wall, the density of my dark presence is lightened by the Lichtgrenze installation of white helium balloons which stand like lightheaded sentinels along most of the Black March: black quadrilateral teasing the bobbing white spheres.
The contrast led to varied assumptions surrounding my seeming opposition to the chosen colour of the day: the black march and its roaming black flag threat, versus the weighted down white balloon poles.
I was stopped, questioned, glared at, smiled at, photographed and filmed, people looked at me with fear and anger, confusion, they pointed fingers, was it a demo was it for peace, was it for the wall. What was it for? What was the meaning? Why the black flag?
So I consistently reflected the question back on them.
The walk I weave through cities (Tokyo, London, Paris, Berlin) has revealed through the simple constancy of a black flag, this symbol, this object and this colour’s power to absorb opinions, insults, cheers, excitement, dedication, participation, police prohibition, silence, reflection, accusation. It becomes an antenna, which vibrates with the concerns of each city at that moment in time. My body is the receptor, the base station of the black flag.
And in Berlin I marched on and I took it in, good and bad. Mostly good, mostly encouraging, and mostly willing to pause, discuss, and sometimes even to alter their first impressions and transform their preconceptions.
Verticality to horizontality
At Oberbaumsbrücke with three fellow walkers, Iphigenia, Ansgar and Macoto we abandon the balloons, the crowds, the exposure, ready to enter the quiet streets and the more muffled reactions to our black cortège.
Three teenagers accost us on Köpenicker Straße in front of the café, ‘Die Rebellion den Zimtsterns’ (‘The Rebellion of the Cinnamon Stars’).
‘What is it?’
Not the imposing black flag, but the tiny camera attached to the pole. Their joint and singular reaction is to sing ‘fucky, fucky fucky’ into the lens: our sombre oddness immediately obscured and mediated by a small eye that becomes both shield and attractor. We had disappeared for them, all that now existed was a voyeuristic world potentially seeing their aroused adolescent acting-out.
In an intimate silence that held us in its spell we crossed Gorlitzer park, Sonnenallee, Karl Marx Straße, and the final uphill of Flughafen Straße leading to Tempelhofer Park, the old airfield.
Tempelhofer Park and its immense horizontality stands in contrast to the upward motion of modern cities especially those in the grip of ‘gentrification’. The citizens of Berlin voted unanimously to keep this park as a wild and impressive expanse of ‘Freiheit’.
“You’re walking. And you don’t always realize it, but you’re always falling.” Laurie Anderson
When you walk at the speed of the vertical, you do not feel the terrain, only the urgency of the direction, the intention, the future desire. With a change in speed, comes a change in time, the slow walk opens up the ‘Time of the Terrain’. This type of time introduces a fragile balance, between the duality of the limbs, it tempts thoughts towards a paradoxical unity. This pendulum that sways from foot to foot challenges the confidence of the body, throwing it into the possibility of falling, at every step, at every moment. Each out breath is a possible end, a toppling, a death.
The ‘Time of the Terrain’ creates an other body,
This perilous balance, the contours, the uneveness, the marks and scars,
Reverberate into our verticality
Its fragments become a dance.
Black March slowed down as we arrived at the north entrance to the airfield, catching Zoe in our wake. It was on the north runway that we slowly landed around 16h30 in the fading greys of a sunless-sunset.
Each body gave way, to gravity, to weight, to the embrace of the ground. The perspective seemed to close in or perhaps we were expanding to meet it as we fell.
Lying there on our backs in the vast public space, voices and sounds filtering through, eyes wide open, staring into the amorphous world of the sky where forms are never stable, never fixed, nothing remains but winds and movements. The wall, the city, the world had gone into orbit as we softened, supine into the silence and rest of the horizontal.
A litany of labels, concerns, accusations, exchanges
Black March Berlin 2014
ISIS (most popular)
SS (modern day fascist flag)
Anti-fascist march for refugees
Exchange with a policeman at Brandenburg Gate:
PM: ‘What are you doing?”
DBB: “I am walking with my flag”
PM: “You must not walk here in this area where the balloons are.”
DBB: “I thought the wall came down?”
“True, black isn’t sad, Black is Black, I should know” (mixed race man who asked me if someone had died)
Political Protest (unknown cause)
Mourning the Fall of the Wall
“You are completely depressed because of the political situation in the world” Woman who works with Syrian Refugees
“Today you should be naked, you should be white…and black is sad…You shouldn’t be doing this. But of course you can do what you want.”
“It’s really great that you make people think”
Black Marche Paris 2013
Anarchist (most popular)
Funeral of ‘girlhood’ (enterrement de la vie de jeune fille)
A tour guide
“How beautiful to see a woman alone leading a revolution”
“I don’t like your flag, I could just shoot a bullet in your head”
“That’s ugly” (“C’est moche”)
“It’s not beautiful, it’s sad” (“C’est pas beau, c’est triste”)
Black Walk London 2013
Political protest (cause unimportant)
Black Walk Tokyo 2012
Russian protester (renewed dispute over the Kuril Islands at the time)
Stopped more than 15 times by police for potential disturbance
to be continued...
Participants and collaborators in Berlin
Pablo Cousinou, Dan, Saverio Tonoli, Zoe Goldstein, Macoto Inagawa, Ansgar Prüwer, Iphigenia Vogiatzaki
Kazimir Malevich at Tate, preparing a walk and thinking about darkness and horizons
“The contemporary is he who firmly holds his gaze on his own time so as to perceive not its light but rather its darkness.”Giorgio Agamben, ‘What is the Contemporary’
The Malevich retrospective just ended at Tate Modern. I managed to get it just in time, just off the plane from Tokyo, passing through London on my way to the next Black Walk and the first one of 2014, Black March Berlin.
I was thrown back to where it began. A circularity of sorts that took me to Japan, where I indirectly felt the influence of Malevich’s ‘Black Square’ on Tomoyoshi Murayama’s MAVO movement in 1920s Japan. Murayama had been inspired by his experience of the avant-garde movement whilst in Berlin for a one-year stay and brought the movement home to Japan as MAVO. The MAVO movement’s own performance art and dance happenings preceded Butoh in the Japanese modern dance scene and probably create a further line of spiraling circularity in terms of influences: Malevich, Murayama, Hijikata… read article >>
I will be teaching some classes through Butoh UK on 28 October and 4 November at the Buddhist Arts Centre in Bethnal Green.
7 – 9.00pm, drop-in £ 12, no previous experience is necessary open to artists, dancers, performer, etc…*
Venue: London Buddhist Arts Centre, Eastbourne House, Bullards Place, Bethnal Green, E2.
My teaching is based on my own experiences with a variety of Butoh dancers in Japan over the past 3 years where I have done a self-directed research project into the origins of Butoh and the contemporary currents of this form. To this I have applied my previous dance and movement training to create an amalgam approach for creating with the body, I call it ‘body material’ in tribute to Tatsumi Hijikata.
Working from the principle of the body as a material with properties of weight, density, resistance which are constantly changing and transforming, my focus is on developing new perceptions on live presence within space and time.
“…the expansion of presents towards the past and the future, their coexistence, indexes the possibility for an ethical remembering necessary for a politics of the dead…” André Lepecki
‘Homework of the blood’ might sound like a strange title for a performance event, and of course it is. It was chosen through an episode of a ‘loss in translation’: I misunderstood the use of a word in Japanese and thought this title was being suggested… This ‘loss’ of understanding which we experience within language and between languages, also applies to time. The ‘loss’ associated with memory and time can be termed ‘melancholia’. This is how Lepecki refers to it in his book ‘Exhausting Dance: Performance and the Politics of Movement’. In his conclusion he advocates taking a different perspective on time in order to rid ourselves of the melancholy of modernity which only believes in units of the present which become lost as they disappear into this ‘micro’ view of time. And for language, in the case of this title, by opening up the possibility of a mistake actually ‘becoming’ a possible result.
What is ‘The Homework of [our] Blood’? In my performance I am seeking to address a homework concerned with gender, in my case that of the ‘woman’. Part of the homework I do within the female body I have is question what it is to be ‘woman’, and how this relates to being ‘feminine’? Ideas about the ‘essence’ of woman, the standards of ‘beauty’ or ‘ideal’ might change across eras and cultures, but some seem to remain rigid and handed down from previous generations without question.
I will rework a performance which I created last year for the Festival of Female Dancers at the Isamu Noguchi Room, Keio University. I called this performance ‘The Shape of Twilight’: within the time of twilight, forms change, things may appear differently as light changes to darkness. In that twilight is the possibility of re-imagining fixed form, just as the twilight of misunderstanding does in language, and perhaps in that space we can see new possibilities for what ‘woman’ is, which go beyond the melancholic memories of “feminine = woman”.
“Who said that time heals all wounds? It would be better to say that time heals everything except wounds. With time, the hurt of separation loses its real limits. With time, the desired body will soon disappear, and if the desiring body has already ceased to exist for the other, then what remains is a wound…disembodied.”
Samura Koichi in Chris Marker’s ‘Sans Soleil’
These lines from Sans Soleil resonated in my mind since the first time I saw this film: now a film I have watched many times and one of my favourites. In fact I can say that it was that film that perhaps brought me to Japan or brought Japan to my attention. The sight of the ‘Sleepers’ on the trains, the museum of mating animals in Hokkaido, the hypnotic movement of the Bon-dancers.
WHITE began with a brain scan. Photos of my head were taken because I had a problem with my vision: 365 photos in total, a number that echoes the days of a year, each fragment of a whole that makes up an element of time, of my life. I was told I might have a condition that would affect my nerves, something wrong with the WHITE matter: all this was communicated through translation. The last part was the wound.
When I was creating WHITE I was thinking about the difficulties I have had in communicating: difficulties that were not always sad or alienating ones. Instead this separation gave me the freedom to be an observer, an outsider, ‘a fly on the wall’ and I could reflect on what words attempt to do. How thoughts and words are connected to the time of our own bodies, our social bodies and the time of others. I always seem to be out of time, in my lack of words, but I am always punctual although I don’t even have that essential of modern communication, a mobile telephone.
Of course in the solitude of the studio and faced with the prospect of one’s own mortality, Love becomes a frequent point of return for the meandering mind.
Words, time, bodies, brains, heads, choreography, systems of command, hierarchies, and love, all these things still populate the WHITE page.
It is unfinished.
WHITE actually began with a dream of a dead polar bear with a deep wound on its back.
Natsu Nakajima will be presenting ‘Solo Butoh Exhibition’ through the Yotsuya Butoh Network on 5 & 6 September 2014.
I will be participating alongside four other female dancers: Akiko Otsu, Ayako Omori, Biyo Kikuchi, Tomomi Tanabe. I will present a new piece ‘WHITE wound’ which is currently in development and in September, wanting to be faithful to my third year’s experience of Japan, I will show a work-in-progress extract of it as my solo. I’ll be posting up a little more information on this piece as it develops.
Last year on 22 June 2013 I walked a spiral through Paris following the descending numbers of the arrondissements from 20-1 and then eventually to Point Zero where all distances are measured from. I was accompanied by 14 participants, most of them strangers. They had responded to a call out from Dimanche Rouge, performance art organisation, or 59 Rivoli Gallery.
The walk in Paris was inspired by the landscape mandalas of the Kii Peninsula in Japan, whereby walkers follow an ancient trail which traces a mandala over the landscape as a practice towards ‘satori’ enlightenment. In Paris I was questioning and attempting ‘an encounter with the sacred in the urban landscape’.
The walk began at 8am from Porte de Bagnolet, me and my big black flag, about to start the longest Black Walk yet: unbeknown to me then, I was embarking on a 50 km walk that would last 13 hours: I may conceptualise but I do not measure.
I met my first participant just before the entrance to the Cimetière du Père Lachaise. Of course each of these meetings was ostensibly a ‘blind date’: I had no idea who these strangers would be. Rafaële appeared from the anonymity of the street and silently entered my step . Moving in complicit unison, we entered the cemetery and ‘danced’ a walking duet as we got lost amongst the gravestones.
13 hours and many ‘blind dates’ later I found Point Zero in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. I was accompanied by five of my partners, a brave band of participant-collaborator-conspirators who had crossed the city with me one by one. It was in them that I found the sacred in the city: in the silence, the steps, the rhythms, the burning questions, the conversations, the shared encounters, the intimacy of strangers, the trust in a project that simply set out to walk for hours with no specific slogan, no aim, no message. Just bodies moving, sensing the city, travelling, both provocative and invisible.
When I waved the black flag at Point Zero Paris it was not of conquest but of continuity. I’ll be taking Black Walk to India next year.
Thank you to each of these participants who walked and shared their experience through drawings, writings, films, photographs, memories and to a later contributor Rich NXT for sound composition:
尔尼 (text & voice)
Hector & Lucette Bonarjee
KURI / Katsu & Miho
San Germano (Super 8 footage)
Rafaële Cellier (spiral animation)
Rich NXT (sound composition)
With the support of:
59 Rivoli Gallery