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Dancing Into Darkness

Dancing Into Darkness: Butoh, Zen, and Japan

Sondra Horton Fraleigh
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Dancing Into Darkness
    Book Description:

    Dancing Into Darknessis Sondra Horton Fraleigh's chronological diary of her deepening understanding of and appreciation for this art form, as she moves from a position of aesthetic response as an audience member to that of assimilation as a student. As a student of Zen and butoh, Fraleigh witnesses her own artistic and personal transformation through essays, poems, interviews, and reflections spanning twelve years of study, much of it in Japan. Numerous performance photographs and original calligraphy by Fraleigh's Zen teacher Shodo Akane illuminate her words.

    The pieces ofDancing Into Darknesscross boundaries, just as butoh anticipates a growing global amalgamation. "Butoh is not an aesthetic movement grafted onto Western dance, " Fraleigh concludes, "and Western dance may be more Eastern than we have been able to see. "

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-9062-8
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: The Difference the Other Makes
    (pp. 1-44)

    This metaphysical diary onButoh, Zen, and Japanis undertaken in the spirit of the difference the other can make. As a student of Zen and Butoh, I have set forth a diary of essays and poetry that explores and savors my changes in apprehension—metaphysical and aesthetic. Inhaling my otherness, I witnessed my own unfolding and transformation in Japan. In setting down my thoughts, I found I had collected experiences, not the objects of art themselves. They marked my path on a larger journey, the dance of which we are all a part. When I left America, I remember...

  2. Forgotten Garden: Natsu Nakajima’s Performance in Montreal
    (pp. 45-54)

    Natsu Nakajima’s danceNiwa(The Garden) was performed for the first time in North America at the Festival of New Dance in Montreal in September 1985. I knew nothing about Butoh then and was completely surprised by the effect it had on me. Through the late nineteen sixties and seventies, I had become so accustomed to American dance and its objective attitude toward performance that I was moved more than ever by the unabashed honest emotion expressed in Nakajima’s Butoh. I experienced its truth as my own. The dance was not objectively calculated; it sprang from subjective, felt life, as...

  3. The Marble Bath: Ryokan in Takayama
    (pp. 55-56)
  4. My Mother: Kazuo Ohno’s Class in Yokohama
    (pp. 57-64)

    Kazuo Ohno was an old man in his eighties when I watched him teach a Butoh class in Yokohama, Japan, on a hot summer evening in a small studio beside his house. I was struck more than anything else by the qualities and meaning of the mother goddess in his teaching and the feminine sensitivity of his impromptu performance after class of a part of his famous dance calledMy Mother, a delicate dance made more poignant by Ohno’s age.My Mothergoes to the heart of Butoh, the dance of darkness, that originated with Ohno and his partner Tatsumi...

  5. Shibui and the Sublime: Sankai Juku’s Performance in Montreal
    (pp. 65-86)

    When I asked my friend Midori Sato who teaches dance at Budo International University in Japan if she could seeshibuiin the Butoh aesthetic of Sankai Juku dance company, she said, “yes,” without hesitation. Then we nodded our heads in the affirmative and repeated the Japanese term—shibui. Immediately we thought of a friend whose good taste in dress and unimposing character we found natural and at the same time striking:shibui.

    There is something more our friend has in common with Sankai Juku. She also can light up a room or a space in the mind. With Sankai...

  6. My Mother’s Face: Natsu Nakajima’s Workshop in Toronto
    (pp. 87-96)

    When I danced in Natsu Nakajima’s Butoh class in Toronto, I was keenly aware, at a critical moment toward the end of an hour and a half of improvisational exercises, of a bodily emergence that I associated with birth. I experienced a purification and regression of my limited self, a melting sensation of being unlimited. This was brought about by Nakajima’s suggestion of “killing the body,” softening the proud bearing and broad chest cultivated in extroverted Western dance. The class began with a slow meditative forward pace and softening of the breath to empty the torso. We carefully placed one...

  7. Shards: Saburo Teshigawara’s Performance in Toronto
    (pp. 97-103)

    As Saburo Teshigawara studied mime and ballet, he became fascinated with the lines the body could make but was not satisfied with dance until he took a class with Butoh artist Kazuo Ohno, who encouraged him, as he has so many others, “to find his own dance.”² Eventually, dance would become more for him than body lines in space. In his explorations, he initiated an original dance aesthetic, not simply a phase of Butoh. It is close to historic modem in its formal shaping of choreography and also relates to the American postmodern in its deconstructive erasure of overt emotion....

  8. Empty Land: Natsu Nakajima’s Performance in New York
    (pp. 104-116)

    Natsu Nakajima’s work accomplishes a completeness of dramatic expression and formal design. Her theatricality universalizes. Intermingling darkness and light, her dances are besouled, demonic, transformative, and magical. Nakajima has universalized the human face with white rice powder as Wigman did through masks. Individual features melt, the personal is derealized; Nakajima’s white face is no one and everyone. Just as good masks change expressively according to the wearer and angle of presentation, Nakajima finds many others and angles within herself as mask.

    Her visionary work,Sleep and Reincarnation From Empty Land, was performed at La Mama theater in New York City....

  9. American Mother and Shinto: In Ohno Village
    (pp. 117-123)

    My Japanese friend and I took the train to Mito City where she had reserved rooms for us at Keisei Hotel. That evening we hadshabu shabuat the hotel—my favorite Japanese food of thinly sliced beef and vegetables that is cooked in basting broth and served in a pot at the table. (I allow myself beef as a condiment on such rareshabu shabuoccasions.) We talked intimately over cognac at the roof garden club afterward. I remember this as the kind of girl talk I know so well with American friends.

    She told me about the inside...

  10. Liebe: Susanne Linke and Toru Iwashita
    (pp. 124-138)

    In a space of fifteen days in Tokyo, I saw three dances titledLiebe (Love). One, by German soloist Susanne Linke, is actually two dances in one. It includes a reconstruction of Dore Hoyer’sLiebe, one of the last dances of the original expressionist period in Germany. Linke revives this dance, then adds her own neo-expressionistLiebein response. The third version ofLiebeis an unlikely “karaoke expressionism” by Toru Iwashita. He dances with Sankai Juku but is developing an aesthetic less polished and more mundane in his solos.

    Linke’s work is performed as a tribute to Hoyer. It...

  11. Beginner’s Body: Yoko Ashikawa’s Class in Tokyo
    (pp. 139-150)

    Last night I danced in the Butoh workshop of Yoko Ashikawa. Kayo Mikami led me through some quiet back streets of Tokyo to Ashikawa’s studio. (Yes, there are still a few quiet streets here.) I had become so immune to the Tokyo noise that the sudden lack of it woke me up. Mikami, a graduate student at Ochanomizu University where I was guest teaching, was becoming my friend. She had studied with the founder and spiritual teacher of Butoh, Tatsumi Hijikata, for several years and was working on a book on Butoh. (As I revise this entry in 1994, Mikami’s...

  12. Tree: Min Tanaka’s Choreography in Tokyo
    (pp. 151-157)

    Last night after the performance ofTree IV Installationat Plan B in Tokyo, several of us sat around a table with Min Tanaka, while others conversed around the room, sometimes joining in at our table where food was being served. Eggs from Tanaka’s farm were on sale. There was plenty of green tea and sake. Tanaka was friendly in a quiet way. I remember his broad pleasant face and that he liked to talk about his work when drawn out in conversation.

    We talked in general of Butoh and dance. Nario Goda, the Butoh critic, was there even though...

  13. Amazing Grace: Kazuo Ohno’s Performance in Yokohama
    (pp. 158-162)

    Not all Butoh is equal to me. I would rather watch Kazuo Ohno dance than any other male soloist I can think of, including Baryshnikov and Fred Astaire. Ohno laughed when (in a sudden burst of hero worship) I told him this at a concert of Isle, Laughing Stone Dance Theater. I was surprised to see the great Mr. O standing alone and unrecognized in the hallway at the intermission of Isle’sSPACE PART3 later this month. I don’t know if Ohno recognized me from his workshops, but he treated me with the same grandfatherly warmth that I had...

  14. Hot Spring: In Hakone Yumoto
    (pp. 163-163)
  15. The Waters of Life: Kazuo Ohno’s Workshop in Yokohama
    (pp. 164-165)

    After seeing Ohno danceWaterlilythis year, I visited his studio in Yokohama again with Akiko Akane and my friend from America, Juliett Crump. Akiko translated for us. We talked to Ohno and danced in his thematic improvisation class on the mother’s feeding of the universe to her growing child.

    “Tonight we start in the mother’s womb,” Ohno said:

    We are swimming in her waters, and drinking her life. When you move you should touch something, hear your mother, touch her. Keep this in mind—your body yourself is your mother. She is feeding you the universe as it exists...

  16. How I Got the Name “Bright Road Friend”: With Zen Teacher Shodo Akane in Tsuchiura
    (pp. 166-170)

    Akiko Akane took me to Tsuchiura outside of Tokyo to meet her family. Akiko is the yoga teacher I met here in Tokyo at “Hatagaya Mansion,” as we like to refer to our noisy apartment complex next to the freeway in Hatagaya. I was on leave from my university to be a visiting professor in dance at Ochanomizu University and to research Butoh, the Japanese avant garde movement in theater known as “the dance of darkness.” I was drawn to the metaphysical qualities of Butoh in its trust of the unconscious. I also had secret hopes that I might be...

  17. The Existential Answer: Interview with Butoh Critic Nario Goda in Tokyo
    (pp. 171-176)
    Nario Goda and Fraleigh

    Fraleigh:What is Japanese about Butoh?

    Goda:I’m Japanese, so it is difficult to dissociate enough to say.

    Fraleigh:Could you speak then about the difference between Noh and Butoh?

    Goda:Noh has a long history, including a sense of time that is native to Noh. Butoh has only thirty years of history. A particular intention is apparent in Butoh. Its slowness is more intentional/ artificial than Noh. Butoh is an international mix of elements, from its principle: what is existence, what is body?The body is the link.

    In principle, there are no differences between one body and the...

  18. Hokohtai, the Walking Body: Yoko Ashikawa’s Performance in New York
    (pp. 177-179)

    Hokohtai, the impersonal (universalized) “walking body,” is at the root of Butoh. Its grace arises through method in purifying motion of intention, getting rid of or emptying the self. When I perform this Butoh walk, I experience a meditative movement manner of entering the Zen question: What ismu? (What is emptiness?).

    I most understandmuaesthetically in the dancinghokohtaiof Yoko Ashikawa. InNagareru Kubi(Floating Visage, New York, October 22, 1992), she performs with an emptying or absence near mystical nothingness that erases identity and ego. Anonymous as a dry leaf, she moves without willing, resting on...

  19. Dance and Zen, Kyo Ikiru: With Zen Teacher Shodo Akane in Tokyo
    (pp. 180-185)

    When I visit Tokyo, I repeat the directions to myryokanin Asakasa so often that they become second nature, or unconsciously a part of me, like a well-rehearsed dance. Now I distill them in the form of haiku:

    face temple, go left

    under yellow lanterns, left

    under turquoise sign

    On my last visit in October-November of 1992, my Zen teacher and friend, Shodo Akane, explained Zen to me as “the rhythm of the universe, the rhythm of nature.” In this Tokyo anthill of packed-together, noisy villages, my little haiku for finding my way home becomes part of my internal...

  20. Prose and Haiku on Japan
    (pp. 186-194)
  21. Post-Butoh Chalk: Annamirl Van der Pluijm’s Performance in Montreal
    (pp. 195-198)

    InSolo 1, Annamirl Van der Pluijm weaves unlikely strands of dance with glaring intensity akin to the slow burn of incense. She dances hot and cold, but the intellectual construction of the work in cleanly divided sections leading from one cultural body to another (from elongated Butoh walks to stabbing tangos) gives the whole a decidedly minded character. In fact, we see her mind at work from the outset. Even as the audience enters the carefully prepared black and white space, Van der Pluijm is just completing her chalking of the long rectangular floor leading to the white back...

  22. Dust and Breath: Sankai Juku’s Performance in Toronto
    (pp. 199-208)

    Butoh, Zen, and Japan have a quiet core, like the space between thoughts, although the surface may be tense and ofttimes frustrated. As the Japanese saying goes, “the nail that sticks up will be hammered down.” However disturbing this image, it contributes to an integrative aesthetic—although the price of accord (might) constrain independence, raising conflict between community values and individuality.

    One could rightly argue that deference to the group erodes individuality and promotes a herd mentality, just as Japan has had to examine its traditional position on group loyalty since the end of World War II. The ego is...

  23. The Hanging Body: Joan Laage’s Performance in Brockport, New York
    (pp. 209-213)

    If individual personalities are limited as the word individual suggests, then we each are limited by dint of personality. However, some courageous individuals stretch their own personalities beyond limits in the creation of vital theater. Joan Laage invents a remarkable individuality inNothing Lasts but Memory, throwing her self beyond self-given and culturally acquired boundaries.

    As an American, she accomplishes her own manner of characterization stemming from the Japanese Butoh ways of moving and conceiving of the body—particularly “the hanging body” and “the body adorned.” Her dance,Nothing Lasts but Memory, is a highly detailed embodiment of an anonymous...

  24. Zen and Wabi-Sabi Taste: Setsuko Yamada’s Performance in Toronto
    (pp. 214-227)

    Wabi-sabiis a Japanese aesthetic concept that has a metaphysical basis akin to that of Dogen Zen, a form that has its roots in medieval times and the austerity of “just sitting.” I have been introduced to Dogen through the writings, calligraphy, and inspiration of my Zen teacher, Shodo Akane-sensei. I have also come to understand thewabi-sabiaesthetic in association with Zen as a plain and austere beauty infused with Zen spareness and transformation.

    Wabi-sabiexpresses a generation-extinction point of transformation that links it philosophically to Zen in general and to Dogen in particular. There is suggested here a...

  25. The Community Body: Akira Kasai and Yumiko Yoshioka in San Francisco
    (pp. 228-250)

    “Butoh Festival”—isn’t that an oxymoron? Perhaps, but San Francisco hosts a successful annual Butoh Festival through the Dancers’ Group organization serving the Bay Area where Butoh is celebrated as a popular dance movement. The festival draws appreciative audiences, and Butoh classes fill up and close out before the festival. How does one celebrate the dance of darkness or “the dead body” that sustains it? Akira Kasai shows us how as he carries what he terms “the community body” with him through his festival performances and classes.

    To write closely about his performance of the dead body, I should drop...