“When I try to prove my own existence, it is impossible not to follow the thread of my memories until I reach my mother’s womb; for it is there that my life began. So I try to carry in my body all the weight and mystery of life; and I believe dance is born of this experience.” – Tatsumi Hijikata¹
Two incredibly inspiring aspects for performance are the opposite ends of life–youth and old age. While one is rich in openness and exploration, the other is rich in experience.
What really do we have to work with other than our own timeline? Both Hijikata and Ohno based their works on their memories and especially childhoods. Having child mind is an essential step in butoh creation due to openness.
Geoffrey Galt Harpham (of On The Grotesque) says of the child: “We have come to recognize that children are intensely interested in the sensory, and especially intent on the alimentary and reproductive systems; they are indifferent to such concepts as tragedy, nobility, and sanitation; and they see the world in terms of such primitive notions as animism, metamorphosis, and anthropocentrism.”³
Thus it is highly recommended to enter deeply into one’s own personal life, the further back one goes, the better. The timeline is the story of stories. Dance the stories.
“Again and again we are reborn. It is not enough simply to be born of the mother’s womb. Many births are necessary. Be reborn always and everywhere. Again and again.” – Tatsumi Hijikata
The baby is a major motif throughout all butoh theater, much like the subtle and neutral walk such as Ash Walk. Baby movements unlike more “mature” movements are characterized by butoh time. With this qualia, listen to the subconscious baby body memory.
1. Fetus (Early)
The fetus feels herself surrounded by a sac with fluid. Feel the lack of worries. Vary the location of the fetal position.
2. Fetus (Late)
The fetus feels herself claustrophobic in the amniotic sac upon the entire body. It is no longer comfortable inside and there are desires of wanting to escape the situation.
As if the amniotic walls were not enough, along comes a series of shocks (contractions) and muscles increasing the pressure even more. You want out and the home wants you out too. But the process of getting out is a bit extreme too. You are pushed along like a tube of toothpaste into a world completely different than the prior. There is space now.
Everything is new now and curious, but also dry, heavy, strange, and frightening. You can move but only subtly with the entire body. The mouth is active especially. There is a vast contrast between the mother’s warm body and the lack thereof. Sometimes you may believe her absence means she will be gone forever. Many moments provoke a falling feeling and so the limbs constantly reflex accordingly.
Gradually, a little strength to move against surfaces is built. The mouth is very active as if you want to taste the world.
Crawls can begin here, but very importantly is that there is a close connection to the ground. The head will be very heavy on the ground still with the attempts at rolling and crawling. Everything comes very gradually. Listen to your subconscious baby body memory. Gradually the crawls become more complex and skilled.
First begin by transitioning between crawling and developing the courage to be bipedal. At times there may be a mother or father there assisting you into this new world. Feel your large body and a torso with four limbs. Torso will have a tendency to move forward while the rest of the body struggles to catch up. You move as if you just have awareness of the four limbs and they are not at all yet differentiated into the ankle and specific surfaces of the sole of the feet.
“Inevitably, the older I get, the more my body slowly withers away. Nevertheless, my dance still brims with life despite my physical limitations. As I see it, my performance should convey the reality of my aging process.” – Kazuo Ohno²
Why are aged wines more sought after? Why is Sabi an important part in Japanese aesthetics?
The old man/woman is a major motif in butoh theater. Feel the delicate and sensitive body. Try different types of slouch. Movements are not as smooth as they used to be. There can be parallels in movements with baby. After you get this particular qualia, you can expand the personality (e.g. combative, deviant, perverted) or any number of reductions & regenerations by X.
2. The Grandpa Possessed By the Spoon
We can put the timeline of our entire life into a gradient, beginning with the egg (zyogote, when the our dad’s sperm fertilized our mother’s egg) to oldest age. We can dance the transitions between one age to another, and it does not have to be in a forward time fashion, e.g. we can shift from 27 years old to 3. This gradient is also explored with the Ouroboros psychodrama/ritual.