What is Butoh?
Primarily Butoh is incapable of being defined...it is always emerging each moment. It is life and death and all that is in between. It is the soul as it is revealed authentically through the flesh.
That said, it is also a performing art that originated 50 years ago in Japan. Dancers Hijikata Tatsumi and Kazuo Ohno are credited as the founders of the art. It has now developed to be a performing art that is crafted, practiced and performed internationally. It is not traditionally Japanese...but certainly its source lies in Japan.
Who did you study under?
I studied for the past 16 years. My primary sensei (teacher) has been Kazuo Ohno with whom I studied, lived, performed for about 5 years in Japan.
When did you first learn of Butoh?
In 1993 I was searching for something to help with my disillusionment as a performer. I had been in--and quit-- an exclusive MFA broadway track acting conservatory program/scholarship and "dropped our" for a time when I saw a woman with an interesting T-shirt next to me in line at a music festival in Seattle. The woman turned out to be my first butoh teacher, Joan Laage, and the T-shirt picture was of her Japanese butoh teacher, Yoko Ashikawa.
How did you decide Butoh is the dance for you? What other dance forms do you practice?
Butoh just feels right in my body and soul. Ever since I met butoh, there has been no other life-art-dance practice that I never tire of and always am inspired and challenged by. It is like a soul mate for me and my body.
Apart from butoh, mostly I have enjoyed all kinds of improvisational dance like Contact Improvisation, Contemplative Dance Practice & Authentic Movement.
Since discovering butoh and my first trip to Japan in 1994, I worked extensively with Noh Theater and the dance/movement that is related to it as well as Nihon Buyo, Kabuki and Bejing Opera. My MFA is in Asian Performance and Directing from University of Hawaii.
I have also practiced many set forms of dance including modern, contemporary, ballet, tap, jazz, ethnic forms like west African, hula, belly dance, Korean dance, folk and contra dance, etc. as well as social dances like tango, salsa and swing. Enjoyment of many, mastery of none.
What does Butoh enable you to do that you wouldn’t do otherwise?
Probably nothing in itself....however my butoh teachers, especially Kazuo Ohno have enabled me to open my heart, body, mind and soul in ways I am sure I never could have without their inspiration and guidance. Simply living and studying in Japan for the time that I did allowed me a perspective on myself, my creativity and my conditioning from growing up in the USA that I believe I could not have seen or known had I not gone. The completely different perspective, culture and landscape woke me up and opened gateways of my creativity, strength and skill that were inaccessible otherwise.
How does Butoh compare to other dance forms?
It is not a form. Other dance forms are form based. Butoh is body, life, soul, earth based and not defined by any particular form. It is a practice, an art, a way of life. It is not a technique or a set of moves or style or steps that can be mastered.(http://butohdance.ning.com)
When you look at these recordings, what is lost in the transfer to digital media?
One thing would be the "trapping" of a moment...when we see something live our memories can recreate it in all kinds of ways that may or may not be anything like the original work.
I’m not so sure what the difference of digital or analog would be but ANY kind of recording tends to loose much of the living breath, the environmental context, the invisible emotional and energetic atmosphere....sometimes I am lucky and these things still magically come through..
What is improved by having your performance recorded?
Certainly one thing that is better is how many witnesses are able to partake of a bit of the performance at any given moment. With the film it is possible to dance anywhere at any time I get an impulse or inspiration and make the offering to a wider circle for as long as we have internet. Dance is naturally a disappearing art...film is not. Also, in live performance situations you need to publicize, call the audience together to a specific place. This takes a great deal of energy.
What motions do you most often repeat? Or is repetition something you endeavor to avoid?
Since it is not really about "motions" per se I would have to go back and take a look to see what I did the most. In butoh I do tend toward simplicity in body movements so the feelings can emerge...standing, walking, turning, sinking and rising, rolling...jumping....not lots of "fancy moves" for sure. The Noh master Zeami wrote: "Feel 10 and show 7." Generally in butoh less movement is more effective.
That said, in some daily dance situations my "dancerly" self and training naturally arise out of the moment...I’m "moved" by the music in some way that is more "dancey" and less "butoh."
In a dance, do you hope to translate some meaning or particular interpretation to viewers?
Not exactly. It is not about expressing anything or telling anything in particular. However, inside me there is a particular intention, focus of attention, image, feeling, experience or even a story that is unfolding. I am far more concerned with being true to that and not with whether the audience "understands." I am always curious though about what they do feel, remember and "get" from any given performance that I offer.
How do you prepare for a performance?
The most important preparation is the process of practicing butoh daily for many years--as my spiritual practice and means of growth as a human being. There are many many butoh exercises for the body, mind and heart that I practice regularly. These have come from my various teachers or been created by me and are what I now teach in group and private lessons.
When it comes to a particular piece or work that I am crafting, I begin with something that inspires my heart, emotions and soul very deeply and particularly and something I am curious about but not sure about. An example would be my enthusiasm about the ocean as the mother of all life. The process of making performance is one of revelation and discovery always unfolding in surprising ways.
I play freely with an image, body sensation, emotion or other being/object and then movement patterns emerge spontaneously. Usually the technical elements like staging, costume, sound, lights, props, etc. come toward the end of the process. They grow naturally out of the feelings and images.
I never start with a "look" I am looking for. I used to do that.
My teacher Kazuo Ohno is known for the coaching: "Not thinking, only soul." and, although that is very difficult for any performer, I keep doing my best to prepare in that way.
I am looking forward to experiencing the collaboration between Maureen and Nala, and Transforming Gesture paintings!