Monday, February 22, 2010

Guest Post: Jeff Raz — Butoh Workshop in Tokyo

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Please welcome guest poster Jeff Raz! This is just the first paragraph of his full and very impressive bio:

Jeff Raz, the Founder and Director of The San Francisco Clown Conservatory, has worked with Cirque du Soleil for the past 5 years, playing the lead role of the dead clown (photo, below) in Corteo in English and in Japanese, training CdS performers in clowning, coaching clown acts, and leading Cirque du Monde (social circus) workshops for at-risk youth in the U.S. and Japan. In addition, Mr. Raz teaches acrobatics at the Tony-award-winning American Conservatory Theater MFA program, and trains clowns in the Big Apple Circus' Clown Care Unit. He is now the S.F. Bay Area Casting Partner for Cirque du Soleil as well as the Associate Producer of Circus Flora, a 25-year-old classical circus.

I'm honored that Jeff found the time to write the following report for us on a butoh dance workshop he took recently in Tokyo, and certainly look forward to more posts.

I was recently in Tokyo, performing with Cirque du Soleil’s “Corteo”. Our assistant director organized a workshop in Butoh given by the Dairakudakan Company, the oldest and largest Butoh company in the world. Butoh is a Japanese dance form that grew in the ‘50’s out of a post-war urge to look inward rather than absorb Western forms. I have very little knowledge of Butoh, which looks delicate and grotesque, with bone-thin performers covered in ashy make-up slowly creating shapes that remind me of A-bomb victims.

Our four teachers, all with shaved heads, focused on a basic concept of imagining one's body as a water balloon, with the flow of water up and down, side to side, as a movement metaphor. Another main concept was that our actions were initiated outside of ourselves, from an imagined puppeteer or from the flow of our imagined water. The work felt wonderful in my body and accessible to my imagination; the primary teacher was charming, supportive and had a lovely sense of humor, not what I expected from someone dedicated to Butoh.

At the end of the workshop, the two thinnest teachers performed a short piece, beginning as we had by simply standing and removing their ‘selves’ from their bodies, leaving empty shells. We could clearly see this happen. The director then gave the performers prompts, leading them eventually to walk over a field of headless corpses, then laugh and, finally, freeze their laughing bodies. It was quite astounding to see these performers interpret the director’s images differently and both with incredible specificity and clarity of movement. It also showed us the pain embedded in the wonderfully flowing, relaxing movements.

After the workshop, a few of us discussed the performance, wondering if we would be as fascinated with a full Butoh show, in the absence of the context of the workshop, the English translation and our personal connection with the artists. Over the years, I have noticed that I am attracted to works of art and artistic disciplines in two ways — because practicing a certain form feels good in my body and heart and/or because I love experiencing that art made by others. At 14, juggling felt so right for my body that I loved practicing many hours a day — it was all I wanted to do. To this day, I love to juggle but am not a particular fan of juggling acts. Shakespeare moves me in similar ways – I love to taste Will’s words in my mouth but don’t seek out productions of the Bard’s work to attend. On the other hand, I love capoeira, Bach cello suites, and really good hand balancing acts without any interest in performing any of these. Clowning is one of the few art forms that I love to do and (often) love to see.

Dairakudakan Company
Our four teachers were:
• Ikko Tamura ( Leader of the workshop)
• Takuya Muramatsu (one of the performers, with more than 10 years experience in Butoh and is one of the Top Officials of Dairakudakan)
• Kumotaro Mukai (the other performer, he also has more than 10 years experience in Butoh and is one of the Top Officials of Dairakudakan)
• Daiichiro Yuyama (Interpreter)

Here is some information we received about Butoh:
• Butoh is a contemporary avant-garde dance-theatre form that originated in Japan. It was pioneered in the early 1960s by Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno and was initiated as a reaction against both traditional Japanese and Western dance styles.
• It has been described as a dance of the senses, of pure emotional states expressed through the body (instead of through words), of universal imagery, of poetry and metaphor. It combines dance, theatre, improvisation, and ritual, crossing cultural borders in its search for the universal.
• At its heart, Butoh aims to reveal the unconscious, inner world of the performer, stripped of his/her social mask.
• Traditionally performed in white body paint, loincloths and shaved heads, Butoh parades a tableau of distorted and grotesque forms, striving to reach the audience at a gut level. It reveals the neglected underbelly of human behaviour, embodying an appealing ambiguity with multiple and conflicting levels of interpretation.
• Butoh develops deep focus and physical awareness, a rich imagination, courage, and the ability to express emotions honestly and openly with the entire body.
• "(Butoh) is a way of life, not an organisation of movements. My art is an art of improvisation. It is dangerous. I try to carry in body all the weight and mystery of life, to follow my memories until I reach my mothers womb." — Ohno Kazuo (co-founder of Butoh)
• "Butoh breaks through all verbal definitions and snatches the audience's sensibilities away to a state of nakedness." — Eguchi Osamu

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