INTERVIEW WITH ATSUSHI TAKENUSHI-ON THE REVOLT OF THE FLESH-
NOVEMBER 8, 2008
In his workshop, Atsushi talked inspiringly about the foundations of Butoh, particularly the concept of “body revolution”, a liberation of the bodily experience from society’s imposed directions. As he talked, i pictured Kazuo Ohno’s flowers growing out of societies square compound. In the words of Tatsumi Hijikata, he urged us to let go of built up conscious thinking systems and “stop wondering”, to start believing in our bodie’s movement, as a reaction to Butoh’s elemental images. I realised then that a principle common to all Butoh dancers is the search for expression oustide of a system, guided by elemental images that speak to the body until, possibly, it starts speaking for itself. As if learning a new language, Butoh asks of us to let go of the ones already learnt. It needs time to be immersed in it, as well as a good dose of patience and concentration. Atsuhi was teaching our bodies how to speak Butoh, and new words were expressed with a sense of surprise and joy. Watching each other improvise, we could recognise when a person was speaking with his body, totally engaged with its talk through images, space, time, to himself, his audience and far away…as Kazuo Ohno says” I am dancing for audiences in Africa, South America…” Surely a little crazy, we believed it and danced.
After the third day of our workshop, I suggested a public interview with him on this subject. He kindly accepted. A group of fifteen Butoh explorers followed its guide, Atsushi. At first thought, we suggested a quiet vegetarian bar, it was closed. We were naturally led to the Florist, Bethnal Green’s local pub; I believe it was an ode to Kazuo Ohno and his beautiful flowers…
Alison: You have talked about the body revolution in your workshops, could you explain its beginnings and its meaning today?
Atsushi: (….) Tatsumi Hijikata came from the North part of Japan and he learnt a lot of modern dance and German impressionism dance. He really wanted to find a way…what kind of way is good, for him? He was not sure…Around him, people started to tell him modernist dance, and darkness dance, and crazyness dance, and he said “ forbidden colour of dance” OR….”Forbidden dance”…Why forbidden colour of dance? As I said, at the beginning of Butoh, Kazuo Ohno used one novel that is called “Kinjiki” which mean “Forbidden colour” and its author is a very famous Japanese called Yukio Mishima. He wrote about a homosexual way of life. In Japan in that kind of time, many young people want to make a revolution, and many artists want to find a new way of art. But this homosexual way is in Japan completely forbidden. Society is very strict and if man and man shake hand in the road (hold hands) than many people look at them as “crazy people”. Sometimes, we have to walk like this… or if open door like this… and we have to move like this…and like this…in the daily life, we have customs. Just like in Europe, they have a knife and a fork and ways to use them…He wants to break these things, many things. So the beginning of Butoh dance is a bit a political colour also. This “forbidden colour” means in the cube of life, we cannot find new art, then we have to explore another way. Then he thought, what is the shortcut way? This forbidden colour. Just, from breaking it, already you jump to the opposite side and through opposite side, you are looking on to the real world. After that, this forbidden colour evolved and became like a body revolution. In Japanese”nikta hara”, “Nikta” is meat…fresh meat making revolution… crazy concept. “Meat” is not for brain, meat has its intention and forgets about the brain controlling. The body should make a revolution and forget about this cube of society, of thinking. If our brain already has this cube then we need to break it. That is the concept of body revolution.
Alison: This happened then, when society was very strict. What significance does it have here and now?
Atsushi: For example, this body revolution time, I love a lot. It means I want to take a very soft way…and by forgetting about the cube, look at oneself. What kind of movement is coming out from our inner life, inner feeling? As I said, each person has his own movement, like trees have different histories and life, different experience makes your life take form, and creates movement. Body revolution is to return back to oneself. There is not only society system, even modern dance, Indian dance, katakari dance, there are a lot of systems…each movement means something different, one hand is going from up to down, each finger has a meaning…then, we have to completely master the sentence, then after that, we can speak…but this takes twenty, thirty years…quite a long time. Before that, we don’t have freedom. Always we have to follow this system; it’s the same for ballet, Noh and Kabuki dance. Then after you master dance, you can have freedom but always within this cube. Tatsumi Hijikata wanted to make disappear this cube and dance system also. That was his first step,then he wanted to find a new way of movement. In that time he put one word from Mishima, who suggested to him “maybe you could name it Butoh dance and darkness Butoh dance”. This will make more people feel curious. The word “Butoh” is a word that all Japanese people know. This is not contemporary. In fact, what we call Butoh dance is not Butoh dance. Butoh dance began in the 10th century, already then there was Butoh dance. But, there is no recollection of it, no photograph; no video…It was an ancient Japanese dance. Maybe from south Polynesia. Butoh dance means something new. Something new but we don’t know what it was like…Dengak, Noh and Kabuki dance came after Butoh dance. Then I think Butoh dance is really beginning of human dance or something. This is my understanding. After that, the Japanese emperor helped build up very beautiful way, sophisticated Japanese dance. Before that is Dengak in which people put mud on the ground and celebrate the growth of the rice. After that, the emperor made this sophisticated and created Noh dance and Kabuki dance. The Butoh dance is more like a the beginning, born from mud and rice. This is more similar to what we are doing now with Butoh dance. “Bu” means wind and “Toh” is stepping. “Wind moving like a leaf and stepping in the depth of the ground”, a celebration of the sky and the ground. It comes from calligraphy characters which would translate as “dance for wind” and “dance for ground”. Butoh is an ancient new dance. That’s why Butoh founder, Tatsumi Hijikata, took this and renamed it darkness Butoh dance. His concept is that Butoh dance does not come from standing position, it comes from mud. The mud in the end is standing up and dancing. Something like that. A very famous Tatsumi Hijikata practice is “what is standing up?”, how does a human find his standing up position? Forget all systematic stand up way and just life going to stand up. In this, there is thousand of ways. The energy is coming from ground. Through this practice, he starts to become more conscient and wants to sophisticate. How to put into system? After the body revolution time, he started to make Tatsumi Hijikata system.
Alison: So he wanted to go against the systems to create his OWN?
Atsushi: Yes, the meaning is if you have broken everything, then how do you build up? Without a system, we cannot build up a language. First, he wants to break everything, but “after its broken, what do i have to do?” He built up Tatsumi Hijikata’s system. For example, zero standing position and many kind of animal position or Buddha position or Satan position. After this, he started to make choreography and it was so strict. He talked about the nervous system and trying to discover the movement of the arm. When he thinks “okay, this is it. Everybody follow this”. He is like a dictator…He decided each position, each place, very strictly. Especially, he is Japanese so he started to think “what is good for Japanese body?” Japanese bodies are small and they can bend very deeply knees, but for european people, with long legs, bending so long time is impossible. We are grown up from ground, from rice field, we need very low position. From this, he invented a lot of kind of positions. He said it was most imporstantly “Japanese bodie’s expressionism”. Maybe he thought “German expressionism? Then we need japanese expressionism”. So that’s why he needed to build up this way. The end of his work is very strict, and it’s at that time i joined. My first teacher is the north of Japan company “Hopop Butoh” with teacher Bisho Yamada. He didn’t come to Europe. So, my leader brought me to Tatsumi Hijikata’s place and he choreographed and we made a performance. The name was “Takasajki” and at that time i was twenty years old. In fact i didn’t like such a small choreography. In fact, i hate. And i said it to Tatsumi Hijikata” sorry, i cannot follow your choreography and sorry, i didn’t like…” Then, around, Tatsumi Hijikata’s students were very angry and they started to hit me…like japanese asangra society… but i’m a bit crazy at that time…And then he was so much smiling”oooh, crazy young people, very interesting….” “Okay, i will give to you only one choreography. You said you like body revolution time is the one you like then i will give to you body revolution choroegraphy and you will jump until your death, only this, okay, let’s go” Until death, i should jump. Then, very beautifull choreography is on the main stage and i’m at the front side of stage,jumping, crazy jumping, and after that we cannot go to standing up, and in the end, we couldn’t stand up. This is the kind of choreography he gave. And yes, i love this….For us it was endless time but maybe that is ten minutes i think. He is a kind of Guru, and he is like king, a lion. In fact he pushed the border too much to dancers and many of them went to psychiatric hospital and never came back. Not kidding, but Grotovski was the same. Like seven day no sleeping, continue practice. In 1970, that time is “how much crazy can you become” “how much can you go to the edge of your life”….
And now, many young peole are very independent, they don’t think of breaking this world or more each person wants to find new way of life, like out of stress. “How to make our life rich?” We need to understand “what is me?” The emotion direction is similar but different entrance. On the one side, the 70’s generation wants to break society “i want to push myself until the edge, until crazyness”. But now, some punk people are still continuing but more i think a fashion feeling…Now, we don’t have people like Tatsumi Hijikata, who was so like a guru, strong guru…Now, we need to focus more on oneself. This way you can find your movement. Twenty, thirsty years ago, it was forbidden to change Butoh company, and changing leader, teacher in Japan. But now, in Japan, they can choose any leader, any teacher and they practice on self. Thirty years ago, we had to stay all the time in the same place; living, eating, dancing together. Everything togethet. Now, independent time. Then, this is very different from thirsty years ago. But if even so, the most important thing is “What is you?” and “What is your own expression?” or “what is your body?” …Your body doesn’t belong to society, your body doesn’t belong to police, your body doesn’t belong to someone but at the same time, we are coming from the ground. Then, we have to understand how to grow up, through the earth, through your history, through your life experience. Now, many young people, dancers or not, want to find their own movement and look for Butoh dance. For this kind of question, a lot of systematic teaching way is not so good. We need systems to find movement but then we have to let it go…Butoh dance is really good for this kind of practice, questionning. Even disabled children’s bodies, or mentally handicapped people, also can do it. And now, Butoh dance becomes very famous but only in an underground way. How to find out things without society and without “beautifull movement” and then “what is beautifull?” or then “what is darkness?” That is why Butoh has become famous but only artistic people, dancers, musicians…
It means once we take out a system and look at ourselves, and then create our own system and find your music or your dance, and once again forget…i think that this is the most important side of Butoh.
Later on, i thanked him for sharing with us such personal accounts of working with Butoh founder Hijikata. I am still very intrigued by this figure, who in his performance “Rebellion of the Body”(Nikutai No Hanran), in 1968, dared to represent the “Other” figure of a satire, a demon with a golden penis strapped on, a short pink dress and ankle socks on…dancing movements reminiscent of the waltz or the tango.
Atsushi told me how beauty and sacredness was then found in the underground, in the stripclubs his dancers used to work in, and no longer from above… a tale, truly lived to the bones, as one of Hijikata’s “naked volunteer soldier”(in Fraleigh, 2006, 88).