From these temporal, geographical, and cultural points of remove, it is impossible to have a sense of the tumult in Japan at the end of WWII. Among all else, the Emperor had been believed by many to have been a direct descendent of the sun. Very few had seen him or heard him speak. That his first public appearance was to announce the unconditional surrender of the centuries old dynaasty had to have been a shock of seismic proportions.
The zeitgeist of the uncommonly homogeneous and hierarchical island nation bore witness. By the late fifties, any reticence to question or challenge authority had long since passed. There were student riots. Japan’s highly refined aesthetic patrimony convulsed.
One result was Butoh, an example of which you’ve just finished watching. It is a typeof performance said to havebeen a reaction against traditional Japanese Noh, which dates back to the 14th century as well as to an incipient movement to imitate things western. Almost unclassifiable, the term refers to a variety of inspirations, movements, or lack thereof.
Nonetheless, Butoh’s first proponents, Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno, having been dancers, that somecall ikt a form of modern dance is not surprising. There is no set style, but white makeup and tightly controlled motion seems common. Sankai Juku is the troupe most well known outside Japan. It gathered much media coverage in 1985 when a rope suspending a performere from a tall building broke and he died.
One artist, Iwana Masaki, describes Butoh thus: “I regard present day Butoh as a ‘tendency’ that depends not only on Hijikata’s philosophical legacy but also on the development of new and diverse modes of expression. The ‘tendency’ that I speak of involved extricating the pure life which is dormant in our bodies”.
Sankai Juku recently gave a series of performances across North America. Linda Sehlton, exectutive director of the NYC venue, said in an 11/0/10 WSJ interview that: “you can interpret [the performance] in many different ways or not at all. You can just enjoy how beautifully, peacefully they move and how visually stunning it is…”
Sankai Juku translates as “studio of mountain and sea”. The piece being performed below, Tobari, means screen or curtain. It is subtitled “As if in inexhaustible flux”. About it (in the WSJ bit) troupe founder Ushio Amagatsu said: “When human beings see stars, they see light emanated millions of years ago. They are seeing something both in the far past and present. That’s the reality of human beings. We as individual human beings – our life span is limited. However, we are part of a long history of life. It’s so long that it’s continuous.”