Interview by Shuhei Hosokawa


1983 A Butoh Lullaby  Ko Murobushi + Shuhei Hosokawa 

Ko, first, I would like to ask about the concept of “darkness.” “Dance of darkness”… why is your dance called that?

Ko: It was first named the “dance of darkness” by Hijikata in his late fifties. At the time, he was involved with aggressive movements with all artistic fields hidden, and as he involved himself with these, he performed. It was a manifestation of the rebellion against the Japan that was traditional and the Japan that was modern (Americanized). He was a teacher of dance, but I do not know the true reason for why he gave his new dance the name “dance of darkness.” Personally, I interpret the meaning of “darkness” as something that is something that exceeds ordinary senses and is difficult to explain, an invisible power that pushes us towards the ※※ of origin or a hidden dimension of our world. The “darkness” I speak of should not be confused with so-called “Orientalism,” “Asian mysticism,” organic food, yoga, Krishna, collective meditation, astrology, or something else. The “darkness” that I spoke of just now is (in the hearts of Europeans) not that kind of “exotic” technique or philosophy–if that’s what you want to call it–but human universality, a kind of foundation of origin that is a universal attitude. A lust for, for example, transformation, for ecstasy, for entrancement, for confusion, for temptation, for love, and finally, for death.

You mentioned Hijikata. I’ve invited him multiple times, but he has yet to come to France, becoming a mysterious, a legendary, existence. Can you tell me about the true face of Hijikata?

Ko: I am not confident that I know his true face, or if he merely showed me that. Frankly speaking, without a doubt, he is, not a, but the person that is the greatest and has had the most influence in my life. Surely, I would not have become a dancer without him. My first encounter with him was in 1967, at the time of “Revolution of the Body.” At the time, I was a student that cared nothing for political movements, avant-garde theatre movements, or underground cinema. I had done happenings before, but nothing had occurred from that. In reality, a happening happens before it is performed. It is the same with the hippie movement. I thought of it as an easy choice for American culture. Because we didn’t have Vietnam, we were living while isolating ourselves. I knew of Hijikata as a great avant-garde artist, so the night before, I had a feeling that something was about to happen. Then the day arrived. I went to the hall by myself in a slight hurry. In front of the entrance, first, I saw a horse. The lobby was furnished with countless objects of Shuzo Takiguchi, Mitsuo Kano, Natsuyuki Nakanishi, the pioneers of surrealism and modern art of Japan. The performance started with a model airplane. After circling above the heads of the audience several times, it emitted a sharp noise and made impact with the giant metal sheet at the back of the stage. HIjikata appeared from behind the audience seats, as if he was the king at a coronation procession. All the while howling, or most likely, while dancing. In the next scene, he was suspended from the ceiling like a moth–rather than a butterfly–caught in a spider’s web. In terms of appearance, it was neither elegant nor aesthetically pleasing. Rather, it was rough and delicate. I still remember how I felt when I first saw him, but I still cannot explain what I saw, or what exactly happened to me. In any case, the next moment, I was aware of the fate of becoming a dancer, to “be the dance itself.” A condensed existence–that is Hijikata. Surely there is no one who can “exist” as logically as he can. A poet of darkness, a philosopher of darkness–that is Hijikata.

Let’s see, your series of performances up until now, “Hinagata,” is written with the Chinese characters for eternity, darkness, and shape. Where did your interest and imagination in terms of “darkness” come from? For example, does this continue in “Iki” as well?

Ko: I don’t want to talk so much about my past work, but… let’s make what dance is, or at least what “darkness” is to my dance, clear here. Think of the excitement of children when the train passes through a tunnel. Think of the children, or the solemn mood of adults, when the candles are blown out at a birthday party or New Years party. Strangely, at these times, we encounter something that is charming and unshapely. That is the power of darkness that is found in everyday life. However, normally, we don’t think about this power. Probably because the tunnel is too short, or the party is too noisy… Dance is that fictitious action, and from the theatrical physicality, it crystallizes the effect of darkness and condenses it. This is possible exactly because it is fiction. It is false and therefore true. Darkness is another side of “nama,” and shines a light on death. Death is fiction and false. This is because we, as living things, can never experience death itself. But on the other hand, there is no experience that is as “real” and “true” as death. This is because there is no one who have never lost family, a friend, or a pet to death. Consequently, death exists, yet is inexistent. Within darkness, for a moment, we experience death. When the train exits the tunnel, we come back to life. This is the reason why we need, if even for just a little, a soundless darkness at a birthday or New Years party, Butoh, or my dance, continues to ※ the ※ of origin in our consciousness. This can only be “the death that could live.”

Ah, how anthropological. Were you able to learn about that precisely? Which anthropologists do you have a strong interest in?

Ko: Really? I read a bit of Mircea Eliade, Kerenyi, Jung… but they are not anthropologists. I am very interested in their symbolic interpretation of etiquette, legend, and mandala. It is very clear and well thought out, but my interest is in the deviation from and violation of their described models. In my opinion, excluding Nietzsche, Bataille is the very first person who noticed this excess. Have you read “The Accursed Share”? That is the first “anthropologic” text I was satisfied with. Both in the West and in the East, humans are the product of eros. To put it another way, it is at the mercy of the game between silencing/exhaustion and exchange. In Japan, Yukio Mishima is truly, without a doubt, on Bataille’s side. This is made completely clear in the short essay “Sun and Steel.” There, he discusses how the body and the soul, in a state of utmost limit–unable to react, and from the speed of the surroundings, unable to feel anything–can integrate together. (He gives the example of the experiencing a nose dive in a fighter jet and the fall of Icarus.) Surely that is a dimension of eros. In this dimension, life and death are reversible. To put it correctly, to live a merry death, and to die a tragic life. However, in the midst of a dizzying speed, one must not lose oneself. We do not live in a primitive society with simple government and economy in which festivals filled with buffoonery and scapegoating take place, but a (post) capitalist society. Festivals are artificial and but fictitious. (I am not saying that primitive societies and their festivals are “natural”… Things made by people are, to a certain extent, constantly “artificial.”) In the midst of being dazzled, we separate into sanity or madness. When madness is completely overwhelmed by sanity, our body becomes paranoid. Butoh measures the distance between sanity and madness, between oneself and self/other. I’ll be my mirror!

We suddenly went into psychoanalysis. Please go back to eroticism and Butoh.

Ko: Let me quote one of my favourite excerpts from “Hagakure,” a book from the 1700s, 8th century, the Bible of samurais.

Supreme love must endure distance
When two meet, love becomes poor
Embrace grief and persevere throughout your entire life
That is true love

The secret ritual of love is in its excessiveness, its limitlessness. Communication is the first type of approaching encounter. In order to understand each other, two lovers exchange their emotions. Dedication is the second type. As they expend and forget themselves, they devote themselves to each other. There are couples who become completely fatigued from the exhaustion. The third type is death. After reaching exhaustion, one ceases to desire even the other. Only silence remains….. this is how it is understood by the economic anthropologist Bataille and Mishima’s schema. Once you fall in love, you goes beyond morals and go all the way to the horizon of your own universe. Love non-stop! It is in “the accursed share” that one discovers one’s true self that is rooted in lost rites, scattered and fading legends, suspended orgies, and forgotten lullabies. Nagisa Oshima’s “Ai no Koriida” is more characteristic of Bataille than any other film, the epiphany. The heroine is sadistic, and sublimates love from the physical (not symbolic) exchange of her lover’s death. As long as it is something to which Nietzsche offered several ballads to, dance cannot but connect to “eros + atrocity.” And Butoh crystallizes the figure of death through the directness hidden in the imagination of ancient times, in the intense and sudden burst of inner strength. There is no school in Butoh. Because there is no school in the figure of vision. Butoh is shapeless. It is the same as that figure. Butoh is alluring, because figure is so. Butoh repeats the cycle of life and death.

In other words, Butoh is a kind of initiation, a rite of passage. Your other performance, “Mummy,” is also connected to this idea.

Ko: Of course. The Mummy is in the middle of life and death. He lives a gradual “death.” A gradual shift in the desire for death! In a sense, he is an exceptional existence. Perhaps we know of the same process of “transformation.” It is a sickness. In Japanese, the word “yamai (illness)” is connected to “yami (darkness)” or “yama (mountain).” As a power (from a strange land, of the exotic, from a foreign country, of the unknown) from death, “yamai” has us looking down into the abyss of death; it shows us the unknown, invisible part between life and death–in other words, the “yami (darkness)”–and brings us closer to what is thought of as “yama,” the realm of the dead, in Japanese mythology–this is certainly not a coincidence. Furthermore, the sacred “yama” is said to correspond to another world that is called the underworld of Hades in Greek mythology. My dance is the pilgrimage in the underworld of Orpheus, who was led by the guide of souls (psuchopompos). In the middle of my pilgrimage, I go beyond myself and stand outside of it. It is extase, ecstasy. In my performance, I am always trying to show a death that was able to live, and what is reversibly interchangeable in the life in death. We often say “I love it so much I’m going mad” or “I love it to death.” Rather than life and sanity, unconsciously, we know that death and madness are connected in many ways to love, temptation, and passion. Furthermore, we also speak of “infatuation”… most likely, my dance shows this chain (sickness, death, ecstasy, madness, temptation, passion, love…) that is led by darkness.

When you perform, do you feel a difference between the West and the East?

Ko: Yes. The European audience is more positive than the Japanese audience. This is probably due to distance. Distance is very important to my performance. Without a doubt, that is what allows me to dance and gives birth to my desire for Butoh. A while ago I denied “exoticism,” Europe’s Oriental boom. However, I must say that, like them, I also am attracted to a certain kind of exoticism. Exo-ticism: literally “what is outside.” Needless to say, this is the motivation that makes us participate and involves all of us. I am always searching for something that is not close but far, not familiar but unfamiliar, not a good omen but bad, not safe but dangerous, not normal but abnormal. What I am thirsting for is (…) the gap. When I am performing, I am always refusing to become that of the “exotic.” The moment that the road is made, even if the road is one that I made myself, I stray away from it and look for something that is more exotic, something (…) further away. I do not stay on a single path that has been made; my work is always “in progress,” “in the middle of work.” This is also one of the reasons why, at times, I reject the “exoticism” among Europeans. It appears that I am somehow becoming something tamed, a matter of course… and it seems the distance is shortening…

As Nietzsche says, “Escape from thy neighbor and love those who are the farthest away.” The other person that is the furthest away is the monster. To me, “Zarathustra” is the god of death, related to the superman and monster that follow capitalism. When the superman unifies a communal society, something that should be rejected, eliminated, in other words, a monster, a sacrifice, is needed.

A monster that is repulsive; yet, at the same time, rejection also functions as attraction and allure. I want to become the monster that is rejected and alluring.

Why do you use Western music on stage? In “Zarathustra,” you use music by Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Erik Satie, and Airto Moreira.

Ko: Many people ask that question in Europe. I suppose when “their” music is played with “our” dance, there is something about it that feels uncomfortable. Actually, in Tokyo, where I grew up, Western music from classic to pop to new wave is popular. I grew up to Presley and Lennon. I was listening to T. Rex–I had somewhat of a premonition–when I heard about Mishima’s sudden death. Up until now, I’ve used Michael Nyman, Flying Lizards, and Archie Shepp. Is it so bad to use American pop? I have no intention to satisfy the chronic “exoticism” in being Japanese as a Japanese artist should. Rather, my performances wishes to show the unknown potential of Western music. Look at my selection of music. How the people I’ve chosen are, in a sense, marginalised within the Western music scene–as is Butoh in regards to the Japanese dance world–is not a coincidence. What I’m wishing for is a convulsing explosion induced by the collision of two marginalised arts.

In contrast to “Madame Butterfly,” my dance does not walk the middle path. To the extreme! To the excess!

Although you put on make-up in the way of Japanese tradition, why is that you reject the Japan that is truly traditional?

Ko: This is a question I’m often asked, too. Shironuri (painting oneself white) make-up is, indeed, seen in kabuki, but it appears in even older, general theatre from before kabuki. Besides, do they dance naked? No, never. A while ago, I emphasized the importance of the directness of the body.

Nudity is probably the ideal way for that. However (At the same time, I repeated the significance of distance), shironuri nudity puts double the distance between normally clothed civilization (laws, system, morals) and the glorification of the body itself. The latter tends to connect to standard training (body-building, collective exercises, jazz dance, disco dance, etc.). In other words, a facist tendency.

In other words, a facist tendency. That is the art of Riefenstahl. They train towards a single, determined goal, a single artistic model. It is a recital, classified according to its resemblance to the goal. First place is higher than second place. Bravo, Mister America! Viva, Comaneci! The nature of the physical in Butoh is opposite to that of a sex show or the Olympics. In other words, The directness is not a visual provocation or “heikinritsu kinniku”, but derives from the distance that we can maintain. Nude or semi-nude modern dance is not uncommon.

That is the art of Riefenstahl. They train towards a single, determined goal, a single artistic model. It is a contest, classified according to its resemblance to the goal. First place is higher than second place. Bravo, Mister America! Viva, Comaneci! The nature of the physical in Butoh is opposite to that of a sex show or the Olympics.

In other words, The directness is not a visual provocation or the “average muscle,” but derives from the distance that we can maintain. Nude or semi-nude modern dance is already not uncommon.
Once the audience becomes accustomed to nudity on stage, what else is left? If directness can be thought to have a ** effect like that of strobe lights or speakers that sound like thunder, modern dance would surely die immediately.

The radical directness of the body is to let millions of pores activate using all available ways, whether they be traditional or avant-garde. Eventually the skin of the Butoh dancer will make bubbles, like small pieces of driftwood floating and going with the flow in an abundant ocean since prehistoric times, forgetting time.

Among dancers, there are those who reject the narrative aspect of performance. A story is an indispensable component of classical dance and ballet. The anti-story in modern dance is naturally the symbol of rebellion against that. But in your work, there is always a fixed, standard (not symbolic) title, and the content is portrayed in descriptive form…

Ko: That is not always the case. There was the programme on a single piece of paper for “Zarathustra,” but nothing for the others. The descriptive nature is very important in my performance. There are also dancers who believe that descriptive nature can be completely denied. They want to title it something like “Untitled” or “Silence No.34.” It seems they believe in the absolute zero, in tabula rasa.  When you start dancing, you start spinning out and creating a certain “story,” but it is a story with no standard structure. And, what then? From the initial state (page) to the last state (page), you are satisfied with the “event story” being created. Needless to say, they are the sons of Hapner. I do not deny the influence of Hapner and I have also performed in such a way before. But rather than a complete improvisation, I prefer a choreographed improvisation. You can enjoy its distance from structures decided in advance and fixed structures. It’s a matter of soft structures and hard structures. The descriptive nature behind choreography is unifying force. It is equivalent to the centrifugal force. The stronger the unifying force, the more the centrifugal force grows. But to the story in which this is necessary, it is not always the minute things, it is the original, passionate, temptatious–in the sense that I’ve stressed up until now–story, a story that can make the act of escaping in a tangent direction, or make us, as we head towards deconstruction, shift. For example, when dancers make a snake or a mummy, it is not that they are imitating a form which eyes can perceive through mimicry or miming. They “become” the objet d’art; in other words, they “become” the story. The dancers are no longer the ones telling the story. Our distance continues to shift the story told in advance according to the directness of the distance of the body, and how long it takes to arrive at the end of the spectacle. There, the story turns to fine powder. Only rubble among ruins remains. Every bit and piece unable to be recovered. The story goes back to that original, indescribable silent figure. That is what we do. Ritornello! Da capo!

In the eyes of Europeans, what is the “allurement” in Butoh?

Ko: First, exoticism. I don’t particularly mind Butoh being taken as the new ※ in trending Orientalism. It is only a matter of course, and of reason. It does have “Made in Japan” on it. But each person will slowly realize the difference. There will be those among fans of the Oriental that will deny Butoh. …This is because Butoh will never adapt to them. It denies them. Because of the physical directness, where differences and distance grow bigger and bigger. We do not “make” dance, we “become” it. In dance other than Butoh–at least in modern society–dance and act are separate. This is because dance is being thought to express and ※ that of substance. Disregarding the essential urge “to become dance” within our archetype, this separation prompted an efficient division of labour in the art of expression called “dramaturgy,” “choreography,” and “production.” Emotion motion! A lot of theatre include the art of transformation. Miming in European theatre is a striking example of that. The fact that the possessing of shamans, trance techniques, and the art of public entertainment at festivals and carnivals remains in kabuki, noh, and bunraku is very clear. This could also be seen the institutionalisation, domination, and sealing of the centrifugal, of the absurd. They “do” dance as a profession. On one hand, we “become” dance as humans. At the same time we dance Dance, on the other hand, Dance dances us. This is how our dance is reckless, rash, eccentric, dreadful, fearful, violent, and alluring. This is because allurement is ※※ that is playful in the same way Butoh is. Without an end (goal), Butoh is, like allurement, the desire (souloir) that tries to put ※※ of death and become the furthest thing, the most distant thing. Butoh starts from what cannot but stand still, from what every dance has declared to be impossible. Butoh dancers listen to a suffocating lullaby in a cradle burning bright with flames.

Vinci Ting
April 1983 Paris
Ko Murobushi