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

Butoh Music: From Trust to Dust by François Rossignol

From Trust to Dust
Music album and text: François Rossignol

For my second opus in the genre, I first intended to revisit the original artistic views of the founding fathers of Butoh and by the same occasion experiment with complex sound drawings. Little did I know that the present times would offer me so much inspiration…

From the beginning, while searching for some kind of leitmotiv, a theme kept popping to mind: The social mechanics of a culture structured around superficiality that leads to its own destruction. As a result, my questioning naturally took place around the consequences of an omnipotent pop culture in a capitalist country. It might seem drafty and somewhat thin, but if the values are weak, so is art and therefore so is our ability to understand and reflect socially. This entertains the thought that in such a land, all great rewards (whatever this would then mean…) would be for those afflicted by those inabilities to comprehend with lucidity. If we let the prejudice of reflection creep in, we let the death of conscience take over.

On this album I try to vibrantly paint an imaginary society confused and lost, where fear reigns and happiness has a price. Where hope has transformed, no…, muted to despair and misery can only be tempered by occasional mild dopamine rushes of satisfied vanity. Yes, it is dark, it is bleak, but to me it is mostly a vital/primal scream of condemnation for the trying times to come. Culture, be strong!

François Rossignol, Composer |

You have an idea? Don’t hesitate, I’m very open to collaborative projects…

From Trust to Dust – Butoh vol.2
Download Album


From necessary motion to soundscapes. Butoh music album

We are glad to introduce François Rossignol, a French music composer, and his new album, inspired by Butoh.

[Text: François Rossignol]

From necessary motion to soundscapes

     Like most people from my generation, I first came in contact with Butoh when watching ‘The silent Scream’ scene from the movie Baraka wondering what was happening. When Samsara came out, Ron Fricke included yet another performance, this time more elaborate and clearly used as a center piece for the films pivot.

     From that point on, my passion for the art of the ”Dance of Darkness” started to bloom. But first, let me clarify at once that the passion I am experiencing when challenged by a Butoh concept doesn’t reside on the soul emotional state, in fact, it quite exacerbates the influence of psychology on my behavior, thus influencing a wide range of emotions that are then now obligated to live and settle on the surface of a boiling body.

     I think it is that specific essence of context which prevents us from understanding, strictly with a focused mind, what in fact, stimulates a more organic way of perceiving the great and precious notion of the fragility of life. Butoh often seen as the dance of Darkness, to me reflects more a necessary path out of the Samsara. While wellbeing is a goal perfectly legitimate to contemplate, it is nevertheless a perilous endeavor if not sustained by a lucid state of consciousness. Butoh provides in every point, and in perfect balance, the very Yang needed for the Ying. The fact that this art form is expressed through dance only makes it more strait to the point – life is motion.

Listen to Butoh volume 1

Butoh Album Rossignol

     My goal as a composer was to create a music that would stand on its own as a vehicle for the imagination. It would have to be a sort of ‘soundscape’ that could also lead the listener on a journey into a land of multiple and unknown elements of emotional and physical relief. I also wanted the images to dance in the mind – motion was necessary. But for my first Opus in the genre, I wanted to explore the psychology rather than sonic colour (which turned out just fine anyways). I also wanted to conform to the perspective initially intended by the creators of the genre and try to play the music in the way musicians from a post apocalyptic time would. Not easy for a perfectionist, but quite stimulating as I became more and more an actor than a musical performer. And I loved it !

     I am now, five years later, working on a second opus in the same style. This time, I will be exploring the sonic space – I will paint the soundscape. While I will be working on this next album, please come and have a listen to a strong segment of my art. It was, after all, an epiphany. I am sure many of you appreciate to discover of a body of work done with strong integrity and utmost respect for the art of Butoh.

…and please feel free to write for any collaborative projects or ideas!

François Rossignol |

The Sea of Time. Tamano Koichi


The Sea of Time

At the mercy of the wind from inside myself,
I continued my journey through the darkness of Butoh.

I can see so many towns in my mind’s eye,
where 30 years have passed by.

I am now on the shore of the ocean inside myself,
standing against the wind blowing from the unseen distance.

The sea is the mother of time and space.
After the long journey from the horizon of time, therefore,
it is a great relief to me to put out to sea
as if I were in a cradle gently rocked by my mother.

Visionary corps, lower a sail!
Tighten up the rope!

Tamano Koichi
August 2016

On the photo: Tamano Koichi
Photographer: Inada Takushi
from the book “BUTOH. Dancers in Shades of Darkness”.

Many thanks to Yumiko Yoshioka.

Butoh Masters: Natsu Nakajima & Ankoku Butoh

Natsu Nakajima, the oldest female Butoh dancer, who dedicated all her life to Butoh. She was one of the founding members of Butoh movement and its foremost pioneers abroad.  At the age of 19, she entered the Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio and only one year later started to work with Tatsumi Hijikata. Training under both great Masters, Nakajima went on to establish her own dance company, Muteki-sha, in 1969, with whom she has been performing and choreographing internationally since the early 1980s. In addition to her performance and choreographic work, Ms. Nakajima has over 40 years of experience as a teacher, and has been one of the forerunners of dance for the disabled in Japan. Her stunning biography you can read here.



With the permission of Ms. Nakajima, we post extracts from her lecture “Feminine Spirituality in Theatre, Opera, and Dance” delivered at Fu Jen University decade conference, Taipei in 1997.

1. The Birth of Ankoku Butoh:  It’s history and cultural background.


Butoh Practice: Yael Gaathon and Vangeline

Diary from the workshop “Dancing with ghosts” by Yael Gaathon (DK/ISR) and Vangeline (USA/FR) in Berlin, June 2016.  The distinctive methods and exquisite work of these artists stands out  in the modern Butoh scene; having a mature approach and with full commitment Yael and Vangeline transmit the essence of Butoh that they inherited from the Masters and developed through their own work.

Yael Gaathon:
“In Butoh it’s your soul that dances and your body follows” Kazuo Ohno stated. Body is a tool to express the dance that comes out of our  soul. The work is to train our minds so that we can get in contact with our souls, with ourselves. Mind training requires a lot of patience and compassion. Number one rule – no judging. Judging means adding an “idiot” on top of my mistake. I can observe my mistake, admit it and fix it. If I add “what an idiot”,  this is judging. This is the one most destructive thing that we do. Don’t judge yourself, don’t judge others.

In walking – there’s no begin, no end, no time… no past, no future
Every fraction of the movement is equally important. There’s no goal or highlighted point. All points on the line of the movement are equal in importance.
Yoshito Ohno talks about “white canvas” – training yourself to arrive at “zero’ point”, becoming like a white canvas that you can then paint on it whatever you want.

Eyes with no ambition. They are open so they can see, but they don’t care. With this method we look for eyes that are strong and soft at the same time. Our eyes are looking into our souls. You need a lot of courage and a strong center – look the tiger in the eye.

Having prepared the space –  a darkened room, impregnated with the scent of white sage, Vangeline started the training  with a dynamic physical warm-up.  Her powerful and challenging work moved the participants into the whirlpool of their own energies that layer by layer purified their bodies and minds, bringing them to the core of simple existence beyond frames of “self”: “This is difficult and difficult is the opening”.

Workshop with Yael Gaathon and Vangeline
Workshop with Yael Gaathon and Vangeline
Photo: Choy Ka Fai. Location: Tatwerk Berlin
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Special thanks to Choy Ka Fai.

Festivals call for Butoh dancers


En chair et en son#2, France
International meetings butoh dance and acousmatic music

Call of participation for butoh dancer
Call of participation for acousmatic composer

Organised by par AEA (Aventures Electro Acoustiques),
Motus compagnie musicale, Le Cube, Centre de création numérique.
Issy les Moulineaux (near Paris), from 6th to 8th of October 2016.
Deadline for propositions : 1st of May 2016

The project of butoh-acousmatic festival/meeting “En chair et en son” allow to investigate new situations of creation up to then very little explored.
Place the dancer body at the heart of the apparatus of numeric sound projection “acousmonium”, to confront him with this music of imaginary, to the primitive pleasure of the sound perception, open new way of creation: the butoh dancer perceive, for the most part the exterior environment with his skin (he can be, even sometimes cover his eyes to be concentrated on this skin perception). From then on, the richness of the acousmatic sound environment interact with his body to open new ways of work and expression.
Butoh and acousmatic proceed from a same poïétic (the setting in motion of the bodies in space) from a same will of genre transgression, from a same desire of return to the essence of things (the flesh, the sound).
The first edition of the festival in 2015 showed the creative richness and the potential that such meeting contain. Read more


Performers, Butoh, Visual Artists and Researchers
Deadline 1st of April 2016
2016 “Difference – Own your Difference”

The festival is dedicated – an homage – to the sudden death of Simone Sandretti, President and founder of Mad Pride Torino and artist. Sandretti devoted his life and art to the concept of self-expression deeming that a fundamental state of being and the purest of all possibilities of existence. He encouraged all those that crossed his path to become a listening and seeing body uncompromised by normality, which he understood a veil in need of ripping. He created the Union of Mad, defending the right of citizenship for those that are categorised as MAD. Simone Sandretti’s art was in name of the principle of be you – own your difference. For this purpose, the festival’s theme ‘difference’ fits purpose.
For us, Ambra G. Bergamasco and Edegar Starke, curators of Moving Bodies Festival, “Difference” stems also from the work undertook throughout 2015 and 2016: gender, identity, racism, borders, conflict and collaboration. Read more…


3-22 July 2016, Moving Bodies Festival Turin, Italy

For performers, Butoh, visual artists and researchers

The fesitival’s theme is Difference. It offers three Residencies in Espace Torino, Italy for those interested in looking and research Difference. The residency is open to researchers and artists. We offer three weeks of training in Butoh and own studio space with wifi + food (accomodation can be arranged but very primitive).
In Dublin, 24th-25th of June 2016 we are looking for submissions for a paper presentation or performative presentation. Read more…




BUTOH: dance and photography. Notes from the symposium.

Rare opportunity to see a unique collection of BUTOH PHOTOGRAPHY at the exhibition in Dusseldorf thanks to the Hans Peter Zimmer Stiftung and its child, art center Weltkunstzimmer. Tatsumi Hijikata, Kazuo Ohno, Min Tanaka, Dairakudakan, Natsu Nakajima, Akira Kasai, Byakko-sha and many more exposed in the light and shadows by passionate Japanese and European Butoh photographers: Mitsutoshi Hanaga, Eikoh Hosoe, Naoya Ikegami, Teijirou Kamiyama, Nourit Masson-Sékiné and Helmut Steinhauser

The exhibition tells the story of the intimate relationship between Butoh dance and Butoh photography and even more than that.. Butoh Spirit is tangible there.

nourit 2

Photo by Nourit Masson-Sékiné

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Photo by Nourit Masson-Sékiné

Symposium „Butoh today“ with Norbert Mauk (ch oreographer, theater director), Nourit Masson-Sékiné (photographer, author, painter), Sabine Seume (dancer, choreographer, coach), Tadashi Endo (Butoh dancer, choreographer, director of the Butoh-Center MAMU), Helmut Steinhauser (photographer) und Wolfgang Schäfer (artist, director of Weltkunstzimmer), was held in the frames of the exhibition and revealed the whole world, another dimension, as the photography reflects the dance… Here are some notes for your inspiration…

Sabine Seume worked for 6 years in Carlotta Ikeda’s Butoh company “Ariadone” in Japan: “During rehearsals Carlotta used to tell me “Don’t dance! Don’t dance, be inside. Feel…”

As Sabine lived in Butoh community of Ariadone, photographer Helmut Steinhauser had experienced communal life with Butoh group Byakko-sha. Both bear testimony that Butoh and life were indivisible. They were living, cooking, cleaning, training, performing – always together, all the time working. No private space, nor private life, neither free time. But extremely intensive work. Sabine Seume: “We have being working on one step for days. Carlotta gave nor corrections, neither explanations, mererly: “No. Search further.” Dancers didn’t have a clue what to do. “Open your eyes, open your ears… search yourself”, told us Carlotta”. That was a challenge to research. Before each rehearsal and performance the dancer was forced to search for what she could do in a new way. That was the way always to stay awake.

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Tadashi Endo. Photo N. Schlupp – 2016 – Weltkunstzimmer

For both dancers Sabine Seume and Tadashi Endo meeting Butoh was a life change.
“After meeting Kazuo Ohno I have another view of the world. Butoh changed my life.“ says Tadashi Endo. As Kazuo Ohno said: “Everybody can dance butoh, but may be not the Japanese butoh. Everybody can find his/her own movement in the sense of butoh.” , so when Tadashi Endo is teaching he always tries to let the students search for their own butoh. “I don’t want to imply the old-school Butoh. We live in Germany, speak German, have other life experiences and culture as Japanese people in Japan and I cannot teach Butoh as it was 50 years ago”.
„If you really start to dance butoh then you have to dance untill you die. This is the difference between butoh dancer and butoh-ist. The butoh dancer calls himself to be a butoh dancer, but the butoh-ist, is not only dancing butoh but also lives his life in the sense of butoh“.

Martha Martens, Norbert Mauk Photo: N. Schlupp - 2016 - Weltkunstzimmer

Martha Martens, Norbert Mauk
Photo: N. Schlupp – 2016 – Weltkunstzimmer

Helmut Steinhauser, Nourit Masson-Sékiné, Martha Martens. Photo: N. Schlupp - 2016 - Weltkunstzimmer

Helmut Steinhauser, Nourit Masson-Sékiné, Martha Martens. Photo: N. Schlupp – 2016

Norbert Mauk has made a splendid excurse to the history of Butoh and pointed at polar difference of dance approaches of Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata, who though collaborated for many years. Whereas Ohno relies on individual expression, freedom and improvisation, Hijikata searched to obliterate dancers’ personalities and for that purpose used to overwhelm the dancers through hundreds of images.

Nourit Masson-Sékiné, as a painter and photographer has shared unique moments she lived in the studio of Kazuo Ohno in Yokohama.
“I see, they (students) are suffering… why are they suffering? Kazuo Ohno said: “Be a flower. Be the ray of sun the flower sucks for its growth” – they were convulsing trying to get it. But witnessing their training Ohno was whispering into their ears: “Be free!” and yet no one knew what to do, how to dance a flower, how to be free…”
“As a photographer, you try to catch something in the invisible, catch something you do not know about.”
“It’s not a matter of space, but border – you touch another dimension and you realize then that you know nothing… Retirement of the ego – being nothing is very important in Butoh. One can then be everything, when one puts the ego behind, goes beyond own limits. If there is no judgment, suffering and no suffering are indistinct – you meet there “someone” else and you don’t know what you produce, but all the body is caught into an essential dynamic, not only the eye and the camera, but the whole being is involved in the process of photographing. Like a dance.
The dancer’s ego retires, the photographer’s ego retires and it creates an invisible space for the unknown: isn’t it the meaning of love? Retirement of the self to leave place to the other. Isn’t Butoh initiation a path of love?”
Nourit remembers how Kazuo Ohno could call “Butoh” anything that he considered true.


Butoh, Video and Music collaboration

This video is the initial collaboration between Japanese butoh dancer Daiichiro Yuyama of Dairakudakan, fashion designer/tape-looping analog synth musician Ross Menuez of Salvor Projects, and DP/Director Bob Geile.

The thought was, what happens when you take 3 art forms, set them up without letting them collaborate directly but instead let them react to one another spawning some mutant art child?

“We set everything up in the studio, told Dai he could do whatever he wanted (even walk out of the frame) hit play on the track and just let the magic unfold.”
The dancer had never heard the music or seen the frame, the music was not conceived for the dance, and the DP had no idea what the dancer would do.

Afterwards film editor Billy Song got a hold of the footage, conceived a ridiculously labor intensive math vs rhythm inspired cutting technique, and fused everything together creating an intensely mesmerizing 3 minutes.

Direction & Image: Bob Geile |
Dance: Daiichiro Yuyama of Dairakudakan |
Sound: Ross Menuez of Salvor Projects |
Studio: David Shadi Perez |
Montage: Billy Song

The raw footage is available for others to download/remix into other work as well





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