About Kazuo Ohno by Takao Kawaguchi

Takao Kawaguchi

There’s something about Japanese arts that fascinate me, so I grab all the opportunity that I can to be able to learn more about them. I’ve been closely following the Facebook page of The Japan Foundation, Manila, because they are one of the organizations that provide the opportunity for keen learners like me to get to know the Japan culture and arts more. Some of their events that I participated in are the Japanese Film Festival and The Spirit of Budo Exhibit.

Until a couple of nights ago, I have never heard of Butoh. I quickly read through the internet and found that it was a theatre-type dance that defied Japan’s modern dance scene. It was originally referred to as Ankoku Butoh which means ‘the dance of utter darkness’. Butoh was founded by Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno in the 1950’s, post the World War. Kazuo Ohno, whose Butoh was perceived as powerful and at the same time ambiguous, performed until he was more than 100 years old. He died in 2010 at the age of 103.

Takao Kawaguchi, who had never watched Kazuo Ohno perform live, studied every movement through watching Ohno’s video taped performances. Early this week, I watched Takao Kawaguchi’s performance entitled About Kazuo Ohno at the Power Mac Theatre in Circuit, Makati City. The 1SA event, a Solo Arts Platform, is being held from October 20 to 28, 2018. This is a joint effort of The Japan Foundation, Manila; Fringe Manila; and, the National Commission for Culture and Arts.

The performance kicked off at the second floor lobby of the theater, where Takao Kawaguchi did movements using props like a ladder, hose, rags, tattered clothes. He led the audience to the third floor towards the theater. The guests were then greeted by the ushers and were advised that the solo performance was 110 minutes long, and there would be no intermission. Cameras and mobile phones were not allowed to be used inside the theater.

Takao Kawaguchi danced several notable performances of Kazuo Ohno – like Admiring La Argentina (1977); My Mother (1981); and Dead Sea, Ghost, Wienerwaltz (1985). In between the dances he would be changing clothes in front of the audience at the left side of the stage. The one dance that stood out for me was The Dead Sea. There was a time I felt like tearing up, watching Takao’s minute movements and expressions. While he danced I wondered if Butoh was very complicated to master because aside from having no beat to follow, I observed every muscle of Takao was flexed all throughout the performance.

After the performance, there was a Q&A and Takao was asked if he considered himself a Butoh artist. He said that his intention was to copy Kazuo Ohno’s movements exactly and perfectly. He does not consider himself a Butoh artist, rather, he sees himself as a performer or as a dancer. What was going through his mind while he was performing was how and when the commands of each movement should be executed. He leaves it to the audience to interpret the movements. Whether the audience sees what he does as Butoh or not, he is fine either way. For Takao Kawaguchi, Butoh denies to be called something – it rejects definitions.

Overall I found Butoh to be surreal, intriguing and interesting. I’d like to watch more performances like this. I’m grateful to be given the chance.