“Butoh is a corpse standing straight up in a desperate bid for life.” – Tatsumi Hijikata
If there is one image that could be associated with butoh outside of the demon or sick body, it would be death, especially for Ankoku Butoh coined by Tatsumi Hijikata (Ankoku meaning dark). Death, to many, is a very dark shadow, but it does not need to be. It can be a means for self-empowerment. Resonating with one’s own mortality is one of the deepest resonances one can enter into. This is even why the corpse pose in yoga is said to be truly powerful.
Death is one of the Four Butoh Spices: (1) Shock; (2) Sway; (3) Collapse; (4) Die.
Right Now, Are You Ready to Die?
“A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” – Montaigne
There are two feelings the title may provoke, and one may be of fear (e.g. I don’t want to think about that) and/or bitterness (e.g. finally, yes, now I can escape this retched place). On the other hand, there may also be a feeling of gratitude (e.g. yes, this moment is as good as any other moment to be on my way), a ““Yes, And.”
The former appears to be rooted in the preoccupation with control and the latter with the acceptance or harmony with one’s space-time. This is a resonance to be reached by the butoh dancer. Endings do not always need to have negative connotations, though many last moments do seem to carry much suffering. Those last moments are one of the things I have personally been exposed to from working with terminally ill patients as an x-ray tech for years.
I always come back to thinking about one particular terminally ill patient. She was relatively young (in her 40s) and warmhearted despite all her pain. She would never miss a wave goodbye after every examination, and even did so on her last day alive, which would have likely taken the last dangling string of strength to do. Our dance should be like that last wave goodbye. Despite all her suffering, this woman managed to appear grateful instead of bitter. She may have physically been dying, but her heart remained lighter than a feather on Osiris’s golden scale.
How did she suffer so, yet not allow herself to get consumed by it? The inscription upon Hell’s gate in Dante’s Inferno comes to mind: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Though the immediate interpretation of the sign may denote doom’s inevitability, it might just be the key out of hell. The antidote may be to surrender so that one could finally free oneself from the suffering. Oftentimes it appears that pride in our ability to change what may be unchangeable keeps us in hell.
This idea of abandonment of hope (surrender) may have a striking resemblance then to the idea of repentance, but perhaps the deeper meaning is not always observed. The idea of “God” is not necessary if sins are taken to represent shadows/repressions (evidence of strays away from our own personal intent/will) that need to be reintegrated back into the psyche to approach more closely our life’s intent/will.
So if the question of death right now frightens or provokes bitterness, perhaps there are some shadows to face that feed off the ironic limitation of an overabundance of pride (inflated ego) in being the controller. In Dante’s Inferno, the very flapping of the devil’s wings (from the desire to escape) caused the air to cool and keep the ice frozen, which kept him trapped. How long, how many vicious circles must go on till we can fold the cards? Knowing when to retreat is a warrior’s skill in Sun Tzu’s Art of War and the mark of a sage in the Tao Te Ching. What image, then, bares so much more inevitability than that of death? Might as well embrace and even think often of death, for death may approach at any second. It can be a serendipitous thing, for death is letting us be, for now. Let us resonate then with this moment.
Death & The Dance of Life
“Butoh belongs both to life and death. It is a realization of the distance between a human being and the unknown. It also represents man’s struggle to overcome the distance between himself and the material world.” – Ushio Amagatsu
Words tend to make the fresh loaf of meaning stale. The dictionary flaps open and each word reads “arbitrary.” As such, we are immersed in a sea of chaos, honing in on mere bubbles like an infant would her mother’s nipple. The waves beat into a foam of momentary information, puns, or serendipity. The sizzle sounds like a wave saying thank you to itself: thank you for creating distinction out of all this lack of direction. We are distinction. We are clumps of information slapping arbitrary labels upon ourselves like gold paint.
Gold paint rubs up against gold paint. Our interactions are varying degrees of lies. Despite any emerging melodies of penalty whistles, I (you, we) continue forth. I am but a series of masks Eternity has chosen to disguise me with. I appear but do not is for there is or appears nothing but exceptions. I throw the prince’s crown into the lava pit. I giggle at the concept of immortality or infallibility, for only a funny wave would seek to dethrone the sea.
Instead, I seek The Reaper’s crown, the crown that transforms every moment into a rose, ever-budding, ever-withering with beauty. Then every moment is a canvas, dance floor, musical instrument, or all of these at once. I dance along the most absurdly out of the way path straight into my own coffin. The lid is Eternity’s door in disguise. Entering, I make the “e” in “end” an “a.”