September 25, 2016
At the Japan Society, Takao Kawaguchi conceived, created and performed an
evening dedicated to the esteemed Kazuo Ohno. a founder and pioneer of Butoh,
who passed away in 2010 at the age of 103. Butoh began in Japan as an avant-garde
dance form in the late 1950s, partly in response to the devastations of WWII, but
also as a way to challenge the restrictive mores of Japanese society.
It often features
white body paint, nudity, and extreme expression through the body at a slow,
deliberate pace. Kawaguchi’s tribute featured a pre-show, site-specific sequence in
the lobby, followed by an onstage performance of a work by Big Dance Theater,
followed by the loving recreation of several Ohno solo masterworks, danced by
A large group of people clustered outside on the sidewalk in front of the
Japan Society, facing towards the entrance, several cameras held aloft. As we slowly
made our way in, we caught glimpses of Kawaguchi through the crowd, lying on the
floor in the lobby, wearing just gym shorts and slowly rolling back and forth,
apparently trying to pick up a motorcycle helmet with his toes. As people arranged
themselves around him, he crawled, walked, ran and climbed on and around various
structures, surrounded by bits of trash, empty cans, cardboard, and garbage bags.
times he threw some objects angrily, or playfully swung through the crowd while
tying a long streamer of rags around the space. He then wrapped himself up in the
detritus – bags, Christmas tinsel, a leash, a broom – and covered himself completely.
Slowly ambling towards the auditorium, he looked like a homeless creature trapped
inside all his worldly possessions. We obediently followed him inside.
As we found our seats in the theater, Kawaguchi disappeared up the aisle as
Paul Lazar of Big Dance Theater appeared onstage, wearing a large tattered coat,
while he walked, made stiff-armed gestures, and sometimes posed. Tymberly
Canales joined him onstage for Resplendent Shimmering Topaz Waterfall, a dance
based on notations by Tatsumi Hjikata, another Butoh pioneer and Ohno’s frequent
collaborator. A plastic jug that hung from the rafters occasionally “dripped” water
into a tin tub (we hear rather than see this) as the performers shuffled slowly and
deliberately around the stage, at times interacting, but mostly inhabiting different
spaces, while snippets of music came in and out. It was a bleak rendering of two
tired, seemingly downtrodden souls that don’t ever seem to connect.
The rest of the evening is dedicated to the Ohno masterpieces, danced with
pathos and without interruption, including onstage costume changes, in a moving
homage by Kawaguchi. His fascinating recreation of excerpts from Ohno’s
performance in Admiring La Argentina, inspired by the famed Spanish flamenco
dancer, brought to life a delicate grotesqueness that is strange to our Western
sensibilities, and expands our understanding of beauty.
copying” of the master from video has caused controversy in Japan, but here the
audience was rapt. As he explains, “The closer [the copy] gets, however, the clearer
the gap becomes, minimum but inevitable no matter how hard [the imitator] tries to
The paradox here is that the gap, nonetheless, highlights the very
distinct characteristics of the copier. Copy is original.” Typically considered taboo
for artists, the notion of “copying” is given a respectable status, and in the process
we experience, live, a meeting of past and present, and something that would
otherwise be irrevocably lost – condemned to fading videos and memories.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson