Thanks to Kanopy’s extensive selection of educational programming, I’ve recently become very interested in Butoh, a Japanese style of modern/interpretive dance (obviously, it’s not quite that simple, but that’s the simplest way to describe it). After watching two fascinating documentaries on the subject, I turned to Fandor for further research and hit the jackpot: a pair of filmed performances (Anma and Rose Color Dance, both directed by Takahiko Iimura) featuring Tatsumi Hijikata, the originator of the art form, and Kazuo Ohno, his frequent collaborator/muse.
Because it’s such an abstract medium of expression compared to cinema, I find it difficult to articulate exactly why I find Butoh so captivating. The choreography isn’t “graceful" in the traditional sense, but rather heavy, forceful, and occasionally even aggressive, emphasizing contortions of the body and face that border on grotesque. At times, particularly skilled practitioners appear to move without conscious thought, as though possessed by deranged spirits or manipulated by invisible threads. The effect is simultaneously vulgar and ethereally, transcendentally, hauntingly beautiful.
Does spilling so much ink about something I still don’t entirely understand make me unbearably pretentious? Probably. I don’t care; at the end of the day, I just like Butoh… whatever it is.
[Originally written July 4, 2018.]