The Continuing Body - Reunion with Ko Murobushi

Shuhei Hosokawa

The moment the body--painted silver. tense, and almost completely naked--appeared from between the grove of trees, a crowd gathered around this mysterious thing, full of curiosity. Ko Murobushi already begins to dance. All the while whipping his flexible, upper body like a leopard. Just when you think he is standing on his tiptoes, he crouches down. And just when you think he’s leaping, he rolls on the ground. All the while running unsteadily like a toddler that had just become able to walk. Spinning like a top, losing himself in the fascination of the world spinning in the opposite direction. The spectators moves along with him, without breaking the two-meter radius around him. This circle is the distance determined with the instinct that any closer would be “dangerous.”

Eventually, he leaves the confused crowd behind and jumps into a hole three metres deep. Like a beast caught in a trap, he paces around in a circle at the bottom of this four-metre wide, square hole. He rams his body into the earthen walls, grasps onto the vines and climbs them, and lets out a despairing, strange cry. Coming to a holy place and kneeling, his self-torturing behaviour becomes even more violent, like a religious fanatic praying to Christ who had let himself be whipped and condemned for his crimes as a substitute. Eventually, his shoulders are cut and the blood stains the pale skin on his shoulders red. His make-up is already falling apart. Sweat spills from his slightly rounded back like a spring from the rocks, half of his body is covered in mud, and his breathing can be heard by the spectators surrounding the edge of the hole and looking down at him.

He stretches his arms up parallel to his ears, holding out the palms of his hands as if grasping at something, and like he was using his palms to pull his entire body, he points his body upwards until he is standing on his tiptoes. Seeing the line of his rounded back in that moment, a memory from fifteen years ago comes to mind. One from 1985 that went on to the next year. I’ve seen a curve like this many times. From the audience seats at a small, local theatre in Nimes, from the stage wings of an outdoor theatre in Rome, at the local cultural centre in Modena, at a theatre in the outskirts of Bologna… one may say it is anatomical curve. Movement that clearly shows how he forms the long, narrow part that is generally referred to as “the back,” muscles built around his bones and skin covering it. With his head shaven, his back, the nape of his back, and the back of his head looked like a single, expanding and contracting organism. He, a rare dancer with a back that possessed a kind of expression, called this gesture of stretching upwards the “pose of a beast” at the workshop. He explained this to his students as not imitating a form, but drawing out the beast within oneself. Among his students, there was even someone who started to howl. This was at a dance lesson space in Paris called “The Glass Zoo.”

Around this time, I hung around his apartment in Paris, journeyed around France, Italy, Belgium under the pretense of interpreting, and observed his performances and workshops again and again. Migration became a part of my lifestyle, and dance was a daily topic of conversation. I talked with students at the workshops and people in the audience at his performances, and came t know to know the forging power that they saw in Murobushi, how the rhythm and balance differed from Western dance such as ballet, and their large expectations of this Butoh that suddenly appeared from an unknown country. To most of his students, Murobushi was the first Japanese person they had ever seen up close. In contrast to Butoh being “underground” with practically no place in Japan, their warm reception of it expressed their recognition of Butoh as a new performing art. This was when Sankaijuku, Ariadone no Kai that Murobushi had close ties with, Min Tanaka, Kazuo Ohno, and others had just started to become known in Europe.

And now, fifteen years later, Butoh remains to be closed, “a dance that is avant-garde and highly praised overseas.” Even dancers and companies that can tour over twenty cities in Europe have no place to dance in Japan. The fact that I was not able to see my old friend dance for over ten years was, of course, not because I had been avoiding him, nor did Murobushi choose the work in Europe and Central and South America because he wanted to. It is because there was no theatre or festival in Japan that could understand. For this reason, my encounter with him when he appeared at the Hakushu Art Festival in 1998 was a pure stroke of luck.

When he calls out “Help! Let me out” from the bottom of the hole, all of a sudden, the audience grows excited. A blank space rises from within the emotions of the spectators that had watched while holding their breaths, and their tense feelings of nervousness dissipate. A single person stretches out his hand as if he had returned to himself. He comes back “above ground” again. After that, an air of humour comes out from his body, and when he begins to laughs out loud (I do not know if that was a calculated act, or if he had grown tired of dancing), those around him laugh along with him, immersing themselves in a brilliant atmosphere similar to that of a banquet celebrating the return of a prodigal son. “Sound!” “It’s sounding!” It was like a drunk dancing by waving his hands around and shouting here and there. Because it was the festival’s last program, the spectators felt looser than usual. Then, he suddenly bowed to his spectators. It was not how he planned the performance, but rather, he just felt like stopping there so he made that the end. It was an overly brief ending. I know his usual self to be quite humourous, but the performance in Hakushu exposed a relaxed side of him for all to see.

I encountered Murobushi again in autumn that year, at the Setagaya Theatre Tram. He appeared on a stage with nothing in his usual clothes. It was in the half-naked scene in the second half of the performance that his body displayed his natural gloss. Just as he did fifteen years ago, while his entire body spasms, he falls directly backwards and, using his shoulders and bottom, performs an uncanny, rigor mortis-like movement with violent reactions. Even now, I have the impression of a dying beast. This is what he called the posture of the mummy at his workshop.

Even before he became a dancer, Murobushi had an interest in the Yamabushi monks that controlled their own life and death and trained with them. He is putting forth the self-mummified mummy as the theme for his life. Once, at the apartment in Paris, we had a certain misunderstanding and I said to him, “Do you have nothing but the mummy, Ko?” and he still remembers with an air of anger. I envied the “progress” of dancers and companies that performed new works every two or three years, and seeing that he never thought to try something new, I had intended to provoke him. But it was in Setagaya that I realized, I was the one who did not understand him. There, I witnessed that although he had deepened the expression in his body, he did not change his style. As he changes the place, changes the title, and changes his co-performers, he is continuing to perform a <single> dance with a <single> body. It is not that he is stagnant. Let’s call it going out towards an “inactive” activity through his body. That is to say, he is familiar with the rhythm his body possesses. This coherent, continuous state (“consistence”) is exactly what I had overlooked fifteen years ago, when I did not have an eye for anything other than what was explosive, and it is exactly what I now see most strongly in his performance.

Vinci Ting

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