Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Butoh - the only known antidote to Cute

In 1959, a dancer called Tatsumi Hijikata performed a strange dance based on the novel Forbidden Colours by Yukio Mishima. He used a live chicken which he placed between his legs and the audience, mistakenly believing that he had killed it, were outraged. And so Butoh was born, a modern dance form that is grotesque, extreme, sometimes painful and in one case, fatal. Though Butoh was first performed during a time of student riots it is also believed to be influenced by the devastation at the end of the Second World War, in particular by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Typical Butoh costume is a loin cloth covering a body painted grey and is reminiscent of the bomb survivers burned and in shredded clothes, staggering out of the cities.

I don`t claim to understand Butoh but I do like it and having lived for over a decade in Japan I can see where it is coming from. Both the local and foreign media tend to portray the Japanese as a well-meaning, law-abiding nation of placid people who do their homework on Friday night and spend the weekend shopping for cute fashions. And on the whole they are right. But Japan also has a very dark side. You only have to look at movies such as Ring and Juon to see that Japan has a colourful tradition of horror and ghost stories. It also has a high suicide rate. It has a growing problem with hikikomori, people who become recluses, some of them as a result of the bullying culture that exists in this competitive, hierarchical society. Although it has a very low crime rate, the murders that are committed here are often extremely bizarre and horrific. As a Japanese student once said to me, Japanese rules and laws are so strict that if you do step out of line you might as well go all the way to hell.

But back to Butoh. Sankai Juku is Japan`s most famous troupe and here is a short extract from a performance. This lot would eat Beckii Cruel for breakfast. Literally.

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