Kazuo Ohno: co-founder of Butoh

Here you can read some very interesting articles that will direct you to further readings and understandings of the work of Ohno.

1.From student and dancer of Hijikata to his own poetics; 2. New YorkTimes article of Ohno’s death; 3. Video footage

1.From student and dancer of Hijikata to his own poetics


2. New YorkTimes article of Ohno’s death

Jennifer Dunnin wrote:

“Kazuo Ohno, a founder of Butoh, the influential Japanese dance-theater form whose traditional look of darkness and decay evoked for many the horrors of the wartime bombings of Japan, died on Tuesday in Yokohama, Japan. He was 103 and had continued to perform beyond his 100th year.

Kazuo Ohno in 1999, at age 93, at the Japan Society in Manhattan. His performances were fraught with ambiguity. His death was confirmed by Yoko Shioya, the artistic director of the Japan Society in New York. Mr. Ohno’s solo performances, for which he was known, were irresistibly powerful and fraught with ambiguity. A humanist, he communicated the themes of the form through identifiable characters, most often flamboyantly female. The tottering women whom he personified onstage, his body twisted and grotesque, were both forces of nature and fragile creatures with flapping shoes and skewed wigs.

In this, Mr. Ohno also embodied the dual nature of Butoh, developed in Japan after World War II. It mines the primeval darkness of life and death in harrowing theatrical physical imagery yet is also capable of the dramatic equivalent of raucous, often bawdy laughter.

Reviewing a program Mr. Ohno performed with his son Yoshito in 1985 at the Joyce Theater in New York, Anna Kisselgoff wrote in The New York Times that it was all too easy to see in Kazuo Ohno’s work “hermetic little studies” or “flamboyant exhibitions in drag.”

“There is something of both in the senior Ohno, and there is also a great degree of depth in his unassailable artistry,” Ms. Kisselgoff continued, referring to Mr. Ohno as “the grand old man of Japanese Butoh dance theater.” “He is first and foremost a performer, keenly aware of the effect he is creating, and in these concentrated solos, one sees indeed the seeds of the entire Butoh aesthetic.”

Born in Hakodate, Hokkaido, on Oct. 27, 1906, Kazuo Ohno was the son of a Russian-speaking father who was the head of a local fishermen’s cooperative and a mother who was an expert in European cuisine and played the zither and organ. Mr. Ohno was a star athlete and a poor student, but his life changed when a college administrator at the Japan Athletic College, where he was enrolled, took him to see a performance by Antonia Merce, known as La Argentina, the renowned Spanish dancer, modernist and feminist. She was to inspire “Admiring La Argentina,” a 1977 Ohno work widely regarded as a classic. After graduation, Mr. Ohno taught dance in a high school in Yokohama. After seeing a performance by Harald Kreutzberg, a disciple of the German Expressionist choreographer Mary Wigman, he began training with two Japanese modern-dance pioneers, Baku Ishii and Takaya Eguchi, a choreographer who had studied with Wigman. Wigman’s influence is discernible in Mr. Ohno’s work. But no doubt another inspiration was the wartime horrors he witnessed firsthand after being drafted in 1938 into the Japanese Army, in which he served for nine years, one of them as a prisoner of war in New Guinea. The rawness of Butoh has often been attributed to the experience of living through Hiroshima. One of Mr. Ohno’s earliest works, “Jellyfish Dance,” created in the 1950s, grew out of seeing jellyfish swimming in water where combatants, dead from hunger and disease, had been buried at sea.

Mr. Ohno started his career comparatively late, coming naturally through age to the Butoh look of an unlovely body, thin and wrinkled and far from the stereotypical dance ideal. He presented his first recital, a joint performance with Mitsuko Ando, in 1949 in Tokyo, at the age of 43. In the audience was Tatsumi Hijikata, the father of Butoh — or Ankoku Butoh (Dance of Utter Darkness), as the form was originally called. Hijikata invited Mr. Ohno to join his dance collective, and the two worked together from 1959 to 1966 in pieces whose influences included the writings of Jean Genet, Comte de Lautréamont and Mishima. Mr. Ohno continued performing with Hijikata and other Japanese modern-dance and Butoh artists, and from 1969 to 1973 he had starring roles in three films by Chiaki Nagano. He began performing internationally in 1980. His major pieces included “My Mother,” “Water Lilies,” and “The Road in Heaven, the Road in Earth.” In addition to Yoshito Ohno, of Yokohama, Mr. Ohno is survived by another son, Yukito Nagatani, also of Yokohama; his brother, Masao Ohno, of Hakodate; two sisters, Sachi Shigeno of Sendai and Fujiko Ohbe of Fukuoka; and three grandsons. The Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio, where the Ohno archives are maintained, will continue under the direction of Yoshito Ohno. Mr. Ohno remained active virtually his entire life. His last performance outside Japan was in 1999 at the Japan Society, where he presented a retrospective called “Requiem for the 20th Century” with Yoshito.His last Japanese performances were in 2007. Past his 100th year, he sometimes “danced” with his hands alone or crawled on all fours to communicate with his audience, making use of the working parts of a body ravaged by illness and age, perhaps the perfect metaphor for the dark art of Butoh.

3. Video footage

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