“The answer to why butoh appears to straddle the line between dance and performance art is because it is both and neither. Butoh is butoh.” – Thomas Caldwell¹
To Richard Schechner, performance art is a “a grab-bag category of works that do not fit neatly into theatre, dance, music, or visual art.”³ Yet because of its interdisciplinary nature, it can incorporate any such aesthetic form and has drawn from Futurism, Dadaism, Constructivism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, indigenous and non-European arts, cabaret, vaudeville, feminism, music hall, circus, athletic events, parades, puppetry, and public spectacles.5
The genre owes much to the late ’50s, early ’60s predecessors Fluxus and Allan Kaprow’s Happenings.10 Both Hijikata and Ohno had contacts with the Japanese artists of these movements (as well as Neo Dada).11
Performance art is inherently personal. The question is raised, “Who is this person doing these actions?”³ Butoh asks the same. When butoh master Tamano Hiroko was asked to define butoh, he simply replied with “Who… are… you?”6
In performance art, material is pulled directly from the body, psyche, or writings, which explains why audience is not a 100% requirement.4, 7 The same applies to butoh, but heavy focus is placed on the body/psyche.” Caldwell notes, “[B]utoh is primarily for the performer,”7 Hijikata rebelled against performance art because he felt the body was being used merely as a tool or a means to an end instead of an end in itself.2
The art philosopher Arthur Danto noted that performance art had a tendency to be disturbational, which means that the “insulating boundaries between art and life are breached in some way the mere representation of disturbing things cannot achieve.”9 Caldwell clarifies that one cannot just show a disturbing image or idea, but that a certain level of performer and/or audience risk is essential. To Caldwell, this performance objective is exactly what both Artaud and Hijikata desired.8
Other features of performance art include:
— Definition of what it is being contested.12 This is the same case with butoh.
— Experimenting with performance spaces such roofs, pools, beaches, galleries, streets, storefronts, and more.4 Same applies to butoh.
— Not meant to be reperformed.7 In butoh, reperformance is an option.
— Audience participation optional.10 Though it is nowhere near as common as with performance art, there have been audience participation works in butoh.