Defyning (Updated: 05/21/18)

“It is a question of a model that is perpetually in construction or collapsing, and of a process that is perpetually prolonging itself, breaking off and starting up again.”¹ – Deleuze and Guattari

Tatsumi Hijikata coined the term butoh, which is a shortened version of its original form known as Ankoku Butoh, ankoku meaning dark. Dark was used for the emphasis of entering deeply into one’s being. The word Butoh itself came from China and was adopted by Japan 1000 years ago. The word implies stomping or movement that descends to the ground.³

It is generally agreed that Tatsumi Hijikata along with Kazuo Ohno founded Butoh. Some add a third element, Yoshito Ohno (Kazuo’s son). Butoh began in Japan, and reached the international scene in the 90s. Butoh is generally now viewed as a worldly, universal art-form, not just Japanese. Its modality includes but can also spread beyond dance, theater, acting, and performance art.

Butoh takes endless themes. Butoh scholar Liao P identifies some major ones: (1) the search for identity; (2) social criticism; (3) seeking the Truth of life; (4) ceremony or festival; (5) body-mind coherence as a means of psychosomatic therapy.4

All butoh practioners/scholars will have their own view of Butoh. To Frances Barbe, “Butoh often works in the area of the absurd, or the grotesque, and might seek the double-edged image: the beautiful within the ugly, the old within the young, dark within the light. Extremity is a feature of Butoh. Extreme slow motion, frenetic movement, extreme emotional expressionism, animal states, strange hybrid characters or material qualities that ‘re-form’ the body.”

To Rhizome Lee, “Butoh is the continuum of an infinite quest for novel beauty […] [one] which nobody notices as beauty.”6 Yoshito Ohno once said to Sondra Fraleigh, “Butoh is just a word for dancing from the heart,”8 which Antonin Artaud would have likely agreed with as he once stated, “the actor is the heart athlete.”10

There are also alternative notions of Butoh’s relation to human. Whereas Sondra Fraleigh places the human at the forefront: “They [butoh artists] turn back time and investigate themselves in basic terms of the human body and, even more broadly, the human,”9 Rhizome Lee, as Artaud has before, contrasts this idea by discarding the notion of human altogether.11* Lee’s interpretation of Hijikata’s relation to human is as follows:7

1. Abandon all human conditions in order to transform into a Shisha (dead) as the Suijakutai (weakened body or collapsed body) which resonates with the spirits of the dead, the insane, the handicapped, and/or collapsed bodies.

2. Enter dimensions outside of the human world in order to become various otherworldly beings.

3. Look at the living world as a dead from another world.

What makes human versus non-human only serves to obscure Butoh further, which is fine because Butoh never seems willing to be completely pinned down. Its nature is free and rebellious. The quote at the beginning of this page comes from the book A Thousand Plateaus, which has at its core the concept of the rhizome which is a non-hierarchical (non-tree) structure. In the authors’ own words, “a rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.”² Such is what resembles my view of Butoh. In this manual, I can only manifest my slice or tree of Butoh of the multiplicities of Butohs.

Deleuze and Guattari have much to say about the tree vs rhizome.

“The tree imposes the verb ‘to be,’ but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, ‘and. . . and.  . . and. . . .’ This conjunction carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb ‘to be.’ Where are you going? Where are you coming from? What are you heading for? These are totally useless questions. Making a clean slate, starting or beginning again from ground zero, seeking a beginning or a foundation all imply a false conception of voyage and movement […] [But there is] another way of traveling and moving: proceeding from the middle, through the middle, coming and going rather than starting and finishing.²

Take anything in this manual with a grain of salt, sugar, other spices, or transform it completely. Thinking is often dualistic and associated with judgement anyway. One plus one may equal three if we have hijacked the nature of the base numbers. In the deterritorialized logic world, the non-sequitur reigns and the meanings/signifieds shift. Play at will.

“Once you’ve gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning. Once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words.” – Zhuangzi


1 Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Continuum, 2004. P. 20. Print.
² page 25
³ Liao, P. An Inquiry into the Creative Process of Butoh. City University London. 2006. page 48. Print.
Page 47.
5 Barbe, Frances. The Way of Butoh and Contemporary Choreography: Reflective. Writing on Choreographic Research. n.d. Web. 20 April 2010.
6 Lee, Rhizome. The Butoh: A Dedication to Tatsumi Hijikata. 2018. Page 34, 35.
7 Page 10.
8 Fraleigh, Sondra. Butoh: Metamorphic Dance and Global Alchemy, Illinois, University of Illinois. 2010. Page 32.
9 Page 4.
10 Artaud, Antonin. Artaud on Theatre. Edited with commentary by Claude Schumacher. 1989. Page 125.
11* Artaud along with Deleuze and Rhizome Lee share the idea of going beyond human: “For this [theater] reality is not human but inhuman and we must admit that man, his customs and nature count for little in it.” Page 98.