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Ko Murobushi Faces Murobushi Kō:
A stranger in his home country and in his body

Katja Centonze

In June 2015 the Japanese dance scene has been violently shocked by the sudden death of one of its most representative dancers. Murobushi Kō spread all over the world a new sensation of dance, an own challenge to the corporeal arts shivering his raw material on international stages and provoking cracks in countless artists and spectators.

Murobushi occupies a preeminent position in disseminating butō/Butoh overseas. Since Le Dernier Èden—Porte de l’au-delà (Paris, 1978), choreographed for SEBI and ARIADONE, he stimulated and inspired new dance solutions and waves in the international contemporary dance scene (Centonze 2006; 2010; 2014; 2015).

He also plays a fundamental role in re-addressing butō experimentation bridging contemporary dance and the avant-garde expression from the ’60s, while shaping bodies of young dancers up to our days (Centonze 2010; 2014).

Without any doubt, Murobushi is one of the most significant heirs of Hijikata Tatsumi’s dance-revolution. While incubating the seed of his master’s radical project of anti-dance, he forged his own path and original response.

I met him for the first time in Ravenna thanks to the festival Ottobre Giapponese (first edition, 2003) directed by Marco del Bene, who asked me to curate the butō section. I played all my cards and tried to invite one of my favourite dancers, who, to my astonishment, accepted and came with his light designer Krisha Piplitz. The Byzantine city and its theatre, Teatro Rasi, hosted his impressive solo [edge 01], after an intense workshop and a conference of mine. Since then, wondering how an acclaimed artist could be so direct and open with somebody meeting for the first time, our indissoluble friendship has led us to endless discussions sharing even violent altercations.

Only some days after the Ravenna event, I went for a one-year research to Tokyo, which gave me the opportunity to witness closely his productions. His male company Kō&Edge was at its beginnings and he always involved me in discussions preceding and following his works: Bibō no aozora (2003) and Heels (2004), his choreography Giselle(s) for the female company Dansu 01 (2004) and his solo Subete wa yūrei (2004) (for a detailed study on these performances see Centonze 2008b; 2009).

In 2005 he invited me to see his re-enactment of Zarathustra performed by ARIADONE at Teatro Mancinelli in Orvieto. The performance was sold out and the theatre was crowded with spectators coming from different places.

The next year we spent several days together in Venice. For more than a month La Serenissima was covered with Murobushi’s silver-body portrayed by Itō Miro, image chosen for representing the UnderSkin edition of Biennale Danza. His solo quick silver was performed twice, and from one day to the next the experiment changed drastically in tension and colouration of the aesthetic display, as if Murobushi would explore the other side of himself and his performative act.

One month later we met again, because he was also involved in the 50th Biennale Musica Venezia (2006) performing in Julio Estrada’s Murmullos del Pàramo.

In 2007 Andrea Pati, Annamaria de Filippi and me invited Murobushi to the festival Torcito Parco Danza I held in the countryside of Lecce. Our site-specific project, specifically entitled ATNARAT, aimed at overturning the post-modern myth of Tarantism and at re-considering the important role that the bodily aspect historically played. This experiment was based on my comparative study on Tarantism and butō as cultural resistance (Centonze 2008a).

Moreover, our intent was to revive the image, found in both phenomena, of the dead body in the harsh Salento nature among its ancient stones and layered history of oppression and self-defence. In this intercultural interaction local artists with a nomadic character and with the perspective of remapping their history were refracted by the identity of Murobushi. On the other side, Murobushi, who often insists on his nomadic character drawing on Deleuzian theories, mirrored himself in the hosting context.

During this festival the Japanese dancer presented two performances. On the first night he re-enacted an exceptional version of quick silver. Murobushi’s dance exploded into a ferocious and panic-spreading happening. Half-naked and covered by metallic acrylic paint, he improvised a violent and wild performance exploiting the entire space, which he organically revived. His body literally phagocytosed the environment and aggressively attacked the dominating silence of the venue. On that evening Murobushi manifested a contrastive relationship with the surroundings without any compromise.

There could not have been a better combination for our project between Tarantism and butō. Murobushi’s performances were simply superb. His quick silver, half between poison and medicine, reverberated the venomous spider detonating a fight between the Japanese avant-garde and the Salentinian phenomenon (for a detailed analysis of his performances see Centonze 2011).

His intoxicated and poisonous silver-body reflected his flowing and contaminated identities as if affected by contagion, an issue on which Murobushi worked for a long time.

About quick silver Murobushi writes:

It is both a venom and a medicine, which are made useless today, it is the Quicksilver [suigin], Mercury [mākyurī], Mercurius, but this is also our lost body [shintai]. (This answer, as this is the response, is therefore a messenger.)

In my body-technique [shintai gihō], there is something like stiffening muscles, bones, skin, dismantling them into pieces, or making them relax all at once in the moment I stiffened my entire body to the utmost limit, letting the cutaneous sensation divided into inside and outside reverse on itself and flow back as a Möbius strip band, but you do not know it, until you do not take a lethal dose of the poison and the absolute speed……………….the eternity of only one chance?  (Murobushi 2005; my translation)

It appears evident how his radical resistance devoured and exhausted even dance, the art form he caustically questioned until his last breath. Murobushi faced unremittingly death and the decaying body in his performances. In 1970 he declared in his diary notes: “The moment I decided to die I started to dance” (Murobushi 2015; my translation).

Death, the outside and his anti-dance are intimately concatenated (Centonze 2013). Also his programme notes addressing Sister Morphine, choreographed for Komatsu Tōru (Morishita Studio, Tokyo, June 2013), explain:

For Komatsu Tōru’s Unfathomable Hetero-Morphing

Sister Morphine dances the unremitting self-dismantling. No, she cannot dance. Instant and continuance. By doing so she cannot stop dancing.

This is because nothing but her death produces her life.

This is “the power that makes us unlimitedly blind.”

This is “our perpetual death, something we never can own as our own, it is constantly outside us, but it cannot be anything else than our death which always exists already there, where it has been craved as a trace.”

(In quotation marks quotes from Kobayashi Yasuo’s The right to impossible things.)
−Murobushi 2013; my translation−

A profound research and intellectual investigation backgrounds his actions and aesthetics, which often have been received as a sort of style to be imitated. Needless to say, that Murobushi’s stage presence is unique and unreproducible, because of the permanent experimental quality inherent in his corporeal works. It is certainly not sufficient to attend some of his workshops for becoming a butō dancer or for grasping the essence of his art.

He always reflected himself, his counter-discourse and his choreic exploration in several thinkers, and he was able to reduce the distance between philosophical thought and corporeal enactment. Without betraying the ideas which sustain his dance investigation, his nikutai responded concretely to speculations which intrigued him.

This great artist pushed the ephemeral body to dangerous limits without spectacularising his abilities. Conflicting forces conflate into his dance/anti-dance nourished by contradiction and paradoxes, which are materialised by his carnal body.

His outstanding commitment to dance as a political act, often misinterpreted, his dissident attitude towards the system brought him to savour situations as an isolated, solitary and independent artist (Centonze 2008b). His artistic coherence coincides with his political engagement. He intervened in social problems through his critical dance soaked with denouncements and insurgence. In this sense he realised Hijikata’s project of anti-dance as guerrilla, as an attack to the establishment.

Throughout his carrier Murobushi conserved and pursued pureness, not in style and form—although his dance reached a high level of refinement—, but in his corporeal counter-discourse which underpins his performative act and manifests a continuous challenge to his own body. Due to his idiosyncrasy towards mystifications, spiritualistic or religious purposes in art, his distorting lyricism gives birth to striking anti-fictional moments constantly in collision with the narrativeness of the theatrical act and the narrativity of the Japanese identity.

His dynamics and stillness reveal an endless friction between his blood and skin. It seemed as his body was entrapped in its Japanese identity, although, at the same time, Murobushi’s passion for discussion and provocation brought him to express himself to the utmost in his native language. For all these years this contrast spurred him on to move abroad and search for different places outside Japan, where he is known as Ko Murobushi.

Now, I have been living close to his place since 2007, connected by the Kanda River, whose cherry blossoms he loved so much. During these 8 years our companionship has gained more and more in confidence. Although I attended in Japan his festival “Soto” no senya ichiya—Outside (2013), and his works such as Mimi (2008), a ball (2009), The Back (2012), Krypt (2012), until his last performance in Tokyo, Sokkyō Dancing in the Street, at Roppongi Art Night (2015), I may recognise his long absence from his country and his relentless touring overseas. This makes me reflect and wish he would have been taken more into consideration by the Japanese theatre world.

Reference List

Centonze, Katja. 2006. Nuove configurazioni della danza contemporanea giapponese. In Atti del XXIX Convegno di Studi sul Giappone, 83-99. Venezia: Cartotecnica Veneziana Editrice.

——2008a. Finis terrae: butō e tarantismo salentino. Due culture coreutiche a confronto nell’era intermediale. In Atti del XXX Convegno di Studi sul Giappone, 121-137.Galatina (Lecce): Congedo Editore.

——2008b. Resistance to the Society of the Spectacle: the ‘nikutai’ in Murobushi Kō. In Global COE Programme. Theatre and Film Studies 2007, vol. 1: 85-110. Tokyo: International Institute for Education and Research in Theatre and Film Arts, Waseda University.

——2009. Resistance to the Society of the Spectacle: the ‘nikutai’ in Murobushi Kō. In Danza e ricerca. Laboratorio di studi, scritture, visioni 1 (0) (October), 163-186. http://danzaericerca.cib.unibo.it/article/view/1624.

——2010. Bodies Shifting from Hijikata’s Nikutai to Contemporary Shintai: New Generation Facing Corporeality. In Avant-Gardes in Japan. Anniversary of Futurism and Butō: Performing Arts and Cultural Practices between Contemporariness and Tradition, ed. Katja Centonze, 111-141. Venezia: Cafoscarina.

——2011. Topoi of Performativity: Italian Bodies in Japanese Spaces/Japanese Bodies in Italian Spaces. In Japanese Theatre in a Transcultural Context. German and Italian Intertwinings, eds. Stanca Scholz-Cionca and Andreas Regelsberger, 211-230. München: Iudicium.

——2013. Hijikata Tatsumi and Murobushi Kō: Out of Dance, Out of Existence. In 外 Outside. Essay collection for Festival〈外〉の千夜一夜 Outside, eds. Murobushi Kō and Watanabe Kimiko, Akarenga, Yokohama (November 19th -24th).

——2014. “La danza contemporanea giapponese: Il corpo tra tecnologia e natura”. In Mutamenti dei linguaggi della scena teatrale e di danza del Giappone contemporaneo, a cura di Bonaventura Ruperti, 314-348. Venezia: Cafoscarina.

——2015. “Butō, la danza non danzata: culture coreutiche e corporalità che si intersecano tra Giappone e Germania”. In Butō. Prospettive europee e sguardi dal Giappone, eds. Matteo Casari and Elena Cervellati, 102-122. In Arti delle performance: orizzonti e culture 6, Università di Bologna, Dip. delle Arti. http://amsacta.unibo.it/4352/

Murobushi, Kō. 2005. quick silver. Unpublished notes of the artist. Tokyo.

——2013. Sister Morphine. Programme notes Sister Morphine (trans. Katja Centonze), Morishita Studio, Tokyo, 6 June 2013.

——2015. In Tsuitō bunshū “Soto” e! “Kōtsū” e!— ArigatōMurobushi Kō, ed. Nakahara Sōji. Kō&Edge.

February 23, 2016
Theatre Arts