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Dancing and the Dark Soul of Japan_ An Aesthetic Analysis of Butō

Dancing and the Dark Soul of Japan_ An Aesthetic Analysis of Butō

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Dancing and the Dark Soul of Japan: An Aesthetic Analysis of "Butō"Author(s): Vicki SandersSource:
Asian Theatre Journal,
Vol. 5, No. 2 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 148-163Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 05/05/2011 09:51
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Dancingand theDarkSoulofJapan:AnAestheticAnalysisofButo
VickiSanders
HijikataTatsumi,apoorfarmboyfromAkita,innortheastJapan,was ateenagerwhen theUnited Statesdroppedthe atomicbombsonHiroshimaandNagasaki.Heintendedacareerinclassicaldance,butjustastheatomic assault foreveraltered thecourseofJapanesepoliticalhistory,sodiditsaftershocksindeliblymarkthenation'semergingartistsand theirattitude toward the aestheticrootsfromwhichtheysprang.Hijikata'scausewasnotantiwar,his dancesnotantibomb.Hecameofageas adancer andchoreographer,however,atatimewhen hiscountrylayinruins,when therewasanopportunitytochangearigidclassstructure,tothrowoffthemantleofWesternism,torediscover andredefine what itmeant tobeJapanese.Onewaytoattacktheoppressiveaspectsof socialtraditionwastoexposetheunderbelly,toexplore"the dark truths that hid beneath theJapanesesocialmask"(Stein1986a,115).That is whatHijikatasetout todowhenheturnedhisbackonconventional dance formsand enteredinsteadanartisticsubstratum thatcondoned hisrevolutionaryideas. Critic DonaldRichie,whohaslivedinJapanformorethanfortyyears,saysHijikata'saimwastostartleanunyielding,class-consciousJapanintorecognizingthepresenceofitsoutcasts,itsso-callednonpeople:thevagrants,prostitutes,whoremongers,drunks,homeless,andimpoverished(Richie1986).Blemishesonthenation'spowderedwhitecheek,theybecameHijikata'smetaphorforallthatwasrejectedbyJapan'sclassicaldefinitionofbeauty.Intheprotectiveshadow ofthe1950s and 1960savant-garde, Hiji
VickiSandershas beenadanceand theatrecritic forTheBerkshireEagle,The ProvidenceJournal,andTheMiami Herald.In1986sheconducted researchinJapanasaGannettFellowinAsianStudiesattheUniversityof Hawaii.
 
Buto149
katadevelopedastyleofchoreographicextremism hecalledankokubuto,interpretedtomean"dance ofdarkness"or"danceof thedarksoul,"atermlaterabbreviatedsimplytobuto.Hebuilt hisnewdanceusingthereprobates'crudephysicalfeatures and uncouthhabits(defecatorystancesandperversesexualgestures,forinstance),adirect assaultontherefinement(miyabi)andunderstatement(shibui)sovaluedinJapaneseaesthetics.1Forexample,inForbidden Colors(Kinjiki),a1959piecebasedonaworkbyauthorMishimaYukio,Hijikata depicted bestialityinwhathistorian LizzieSlaterdescribesas"aviolentspasmof antidance:ayoungmanclutchesalivechickenbetweenhisthighs,inthe midstofabrutalizingactofbuggery.Inthedarkness,the audienceperceivestheadvancingfootstepsof anotherman"(Stein1986a,115).Whenseveralmembersofthesponsoring organization,the AllJapanArtDanceAssociation,threatenedtoresignbecauseof theperformance,Hijikataleftinstead,followedbysomeof his collaborators.Slatercontendsthat thedeparturesignaledbuto'sbreakfromthemainstreammoderndanceworld. It also marked thebeginningofanexperimentalmovementthat would becomeinternationallyknown and wouldengagescoresofdancers,choreographers,andcompanies bythe timeofHijikata'sdeath fromliverdiseaseinJanuary1986attheageoffifty-seven.Duringitsthirtyyearsofevolution,butohasundergonemanychanges.Amongthemhas beenatemperingofitsgrotesquerie, makingthedance somewhatmorepalatabletobothJapaneseandforeignaudiences.Infact,much of thecurrentchoreography displays lyricism,gentleness,humor,andeven anoccasionalsignofplayfulness,aqualitynotablyfound inthe dances of thetroupesDaiRakudakanandByakkosha(Plate4).Buto retainsmanyofthequalitiesof darknessinstilledbyitsoriginator.Thesecharacteristicshavebynowformed themselves intoanaesthetic,makingitpossibletoexamine the dance inrelationtotraditionalJapaneseartandphilosophy.Theaimhereistoexplorethe butoaestheticusingtheobservations of Westerncriticsandof theperformers
themselves.
Beautyand the BeastAllgreatmythsaredarkandonecannotimagineallthegreatFablesaside fromamoodofslaughter,tortureandbloodshed,tellingthemassesabouttheoriginaldivision ofthesexesandtheslaughterofessencesthatcamewithcreation.Theatre,liketheplague,ismadeintheimageofthis
slaughter,thisessential division.Itunravelsconflicts,liberatespowers,
releasespotentialandiftheseand thepowersaredark,this isnotthefaultoftheplagueortheatre,butlife.?AntoninArtaud,TheatreandIts Double2

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