. Sayoko Onishi


After three days of workshop on the themes of the life and death of a flower, the blind gypsy musician women travelling in frozen landscapes, and the seduction/fish dance, here I was finally able to interview Sayoko. She had struck me from my first viewing of her solo “Chaser” in which she runs on stage, made up as a scary clown, and performs seemingly stereotypical movements to a soundscape taken from a series of horror movies, shifting worryingly from chaser to victim . Here was a woman who didn’t seem scared of contrasts, for one moving from the mountainous northern parts of Japan, to establishing herself in Palermo, Sicily. So, sat around a table in Bethnal Green Pub,I interviewed a Butoh dancer who definitely could remain grounded and efficient within any context…

Alison: Can you tell us more about the Goze´s influence on Hijikata´s work and how it has inspired you?
Sayoko: The Goze are traditional women gypsies in the northern part of japan called Tohoko, where Hijikata comes from. Goze were all blind so they created community with the blind women. They were really organised, there was one sewing the clothes for everybody, one cooking…It was a systemised community but of course they are poor, travelling, playing music, singing, begging. This poorness was very sad, blind begging on the street…Hijikata is inspired by putting the sadness of this poverty into his performance by putting this toughness of this poverty. I saw this performance and it was very strong because when one goze has a relationship with a man, she,´s pushed out of the group, which really means to death. She can´t stay blind alone, or continue prostituting herself, but no future. In the performance, women dancer pushing one girl dancer with a choreography of a Japanese guitar. Everybody has one guitar. And beating her on the stage, choreographed as a movement. She was isolated alone, violent. I was so impressed, it´s so brutal but on the other hand very impressive. I think Hijikata knew this sadness, this dramatic moment,.
Alison: Was he in contact with the Goze or is he taking this image from history?
Sayoko: He saw Goze, i´m sure, on the street and he knew how they lived. Even i´m not from this area, i´m from the more northern part. Even I saw these blind Japanese guitar players. For me also it´s not something in the fantasy. I saw these musicians.
Alison: As you told us in the workshop, OHNO AND Hijikata had two dfferent approaches to death to do with their belief system, Ohno being a catholic and Hjikata atheist.Do you think every Buto dancer must find his own death and which is your favorite image of death?
Sayoko: Well, I think that every dancer has his own death…Mine depends on the performance… My death experience is my father who died when I was very young. It was very sad, and later, I saw death in India, people dying on the street. I saw very brutal deaths. One Indian man that was dying of leprocy, but he was opening his arms to the sky like seeing the god or playing for the gods, very quiet but he looked awful, flies all around him. He was tied with white cloth, we could see the rotten parts of his body. But I understood hat his death was about him willing to go..
Alison: Did you choose to dance and why did you choose to perform? Is there a difference?
Sayoko: I was dancing because my mother told me to since I was two years old, putting the music, dancing the whole day. So it was my thing naturally..The difference with performing, I think since since I started to study Buto, I am peforming. Dancing is personal so I can´t ay there is a definition. Dancing with the music get the exitement, even following it. It´s a beautiful thing but performing adds more personal expression to using some techniques of the movement. It´s a higher level. Even if it´s a personal thing, we need the audience.
Alison: Do you perform Buto better when you get older and why is this?
Sayoko: Very easy. Buto has to do with the inner self so the inner becomes rich, the Buto becomes rich. Normally when we get older we have more experience and we become mature. These thousands of experiences count in the field of Buto. This is my opinion.
Alison: In la primavera siciliana, you use a mask…What is your relationship to it and was this the starting point for tihs solo?
Sayoko: La primavera siciliana is based on Sicilian history. I was one day on the field in Sicily, was very beautifull, four flowers laid on the field like blood…with the hills. I asked myself “how many people passed this field?” I thought about the history, greeks, before Christ, also romans, also French and Spanish after the Christ…and now, i´m here..even Japanese! Then I thought who is demanding this presence? Me? Or past? The was the idea of this performance…each period of history has conflicted each other to dominate this presence but in the end, nobody is dominating. It could be history dominating the present? Or the present dominating history? We have this expereicne of the past so we control the land. But we don´t know! So each mask presents the period of the history…the first one represents the greek time, antique time, the second presents Christian time…even I am using the music of Bach, the third is my mask, my face. The presence. But the face is not about showing myself, in the end. My face is maybe more a mask than the other masks…So this is the story of this performance.
Alison: Do you think that Buto has a lineage going back to Hijikata and Ohno that every Buto dancer must refer to ?
Sayoko: I think I am lying in the middle because I studied both sides. But we are not at all obliged to refer to them. I am often teaching in the workshop following the founders but I think Buto helps to develop the individuals. If we don´t have origins, we can be lost, especially in Europe where the founders did not teach. I have strong belief that people have to know origins to start with
Alison: What is the importance of hara in Buto?
Sayoko: I believe that all our energy comes from this part, inner and muscle energy, also breathing with hara is a nature thing. A lot of people breahe with the upper part, the chest or the throat, I think we have to go back to our origin.

Alison: In Chaser and in Lighthouse keeper, you use classical ballet music, as a break from the soundscapes..what is the meaning of this?
Sayoko: Both performances have different reasons to use this music. Chaser is about the irony of horror movies. I made one part about the iron of silence of lambs, in which comes this beautiful music of bach…So same music and feeling as in the film but it wasn´t so ironic because this grotesqueness and beauty united in this moment of the film is beautifull. I wanted to reproduce this feeling on the stage. For lighthouse keeper, I wasn´t thinking of ballet. This music to me (sugar plum fairy) is very fragile that we can break with our teeth…It´s the spirit touching light in the darkness, the exit to go out, it´s very small..in the end he finds the light but this fragile feeling combines grotesque with cute.
Mai( Butoh student): Would you say Ballet has been a hindrence or advantage?
Sayoko: Hijikata started ballet. I hated it this rigid form, but now I enjoy it I find good in it. Ballet dancers are very beautifull I must admit. It is only a disadvantage if the dancer wants to perform outside of this form.

After a glass of wine and much more time, we headed home for a curry at fellow Butoh student Fergus’s flat. We shared our views on topics of family and culture, and their influence on our lifes. Sayoko pictured for us life in a Sicilian town,impersonating its locals and their own shares in life…a place where acceptance of the other is generous, as long as you know what you want, and have a strong sense of humour! Soon she would return there, as a fish, a flower, and for the present time, a Sicilian Butoh dancer.



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