August 2017 archive

Beyond Darkness – Butoh is a Life Journey

As a Japanese Butoh choreographer, dancer, teacher, and art director, Yumiko Yoshioka (吉岡由美子) maintains that audiences have a lot of profound misunderstandings and misconceptions about Butoh.

Japanese Butoh, known as “Dance of Darkness”, was initiated by Tatsumi Hijikata (土方 巽) and Kazuo Ohno (大野一雄) after World War II. Compared to the elegance of ballet and the energy of contemporary dance, the anti-traditional and anti-aesthetic Butoh seems to feature distress and torture. Butoh dancers are frequently in the nude, in white body makeup, with open mouths, make claw-like hand gestures, perform slow movement, have disturbing facial expressions, and pursue both spiritual liberation and freedom of the soul. Therefore, for those seeking a harmonic aesthetic, the erratic nature of Butoh will disappoint.

Indeed, Butoh is not fairy floss and is rarely appreciated by uninitiated audiences. Why does Yoshioka take risks and go against the mainstream? She proceeds to answer the question with a long story about how she encountered Butoh. As a 20-year-old student in Tokyo, Yoshioka had no idea what Butoh was and had never danced before. It was a coincidence that she encountered Butoh at a time when she felt ‘lost’ and found social and political movements incapable of solving her problems. She hung around theatres, exhibitions, and museums searching for something new or shocking for inspiration. An almost magnetic mysterious power pulled Yoshioka to Butoh when, one day, she saw in a theatre a flyer for Ariadone Company, Japan’s first female Butoh dance troupe. After almost six-years of training, she became a member of the company and, in the 1970s-1980s, was among the first of Japan’s women Butoh dancers.

Read further the interview with Yumiko Yoshioka for dance journal/hk

photo by Maximillian Cheng

Yumiko Yoshioka
Dancer, choreographer, art director and instructor, co-founder of an art-formation group “TEN PEN CHii art labor”, art-director of the international butoh dance and performance festival eX…it!  Born in Tokyo, living in Germany since 1988

She was a member of the first Japanese women’s Butoh dance theater, ARIADONE. In 1978, she performed with Ko Murobushi and Carlotta Ikeda in “Le Dernier Eden”, Europe’s first Butoh performance in Paris. From 1988 to 1994, she was an active member of German-Japanese dance theatre group “tatoeba-THEATRE DANSE GROTESQUE” with Minako Seki and Delta Ra’i, touring in Japan, Europe and North America.

Between the third and fourth generation of butoh artists, Yoshioka has developed, under the influence of various Asian training methods and schools and on the basis of butoh, a personal style called ´body resonance´, integrating features of nogushi gymnastics, yoga and tai chi. A key process is the freeing of memory-layers, which Yoshioka says hold energies and experiences stored in the body and are cosmic and universal. This inner reservoir, of which we are mostly unaware, contains not only rational and emotional knowledge but also, in a changed form, elements and forces from nature. Yumiko Yoshioka takes all this to be an archaic fund of the human, open to reactivation, so classical butoh motifs serve as a vehicle for the transformation of energy: “There is a feedback between the imagination and the body. By enabling dancers to develop antennae and by supplying them with images, I try to let them channel impressions and information. They may then achieve a state in which they can transcend their egos and change themselves,” so Yoshioka in an interview.

*Photo by Maximillian Cheng