Performing Arts: Dance
  KAZUO OHNO
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 Kawaguchi.

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.

At 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.

Kawaguchi’s “literal 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 diminish it.

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




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