I am interested in knowing if one can dance whenever one wants to.

by Emma

Min Tanaka – Butoh – an interview.
ok i know this is so long but i’m putting it here to keep remembering.

“When I dance, it is an act of shooting an arrow to myself in the stage following the dance, in the everyday life awaiting me after that act. I dance because I believe I can furnish something for my time in the next stage.” -Min Tanaka

First you started with modern European dance, then ballet, and then moved onto butoh. How are they different?
I think it is wrong to make such a distinction as modern dance, classical ballet AND butoh. Butoh goes beyond that dimension. You know what modern European dance is and what classical ballet is. Do you know why he regarded what he tried to do as butoh? He fundamentally wanted to declare that what he was pursuing was completely different from other kinds of dance. Conventionally, the Japanese word Buyo or Nihon Buyo referred to the traditional Japanese dance, and the Western dance, after it was introduced to Japan, was labeled as Western Dance, Seiyo Buyo. Butoh was none of them and he wanted to call it differently. At that time he did not show a model for Butoh. He didn’t label such and such a movement, gesture or style as butoh. The main point was to declare “We ARE different,” not “What we DO is different.” This is what he said about the appellation.

Many of our readers will be unfamiliar with butoh. Could you explain what butoh is in the simplest terms?
I don’t think you have to know. In early 20th Century, Western dance came to Japan very rapidly. About two decades later, Hijikata wondered about its aesthetics, and questioned if movement is the essence of butoh. He was skeptical about the then prevailing concept of dance, and that is why he sought another name. I think the best way to describe butoh is that it is a name for an activity, not dance itself. So Hijikata’s butoh is a result of a new way of thinking, new kinds of activities. He would often say something is butoh-teki, butoh-like. “Look, isn’t he butoh-teki? ” he would say or, looking at a dog, “You see, this dog is butoh!” He would find essence of butoh even in non-human creatures including plants. Movement, technique, and kata (form) are merely parts of dance but not all. I prefer using the term dance (even in Japanese), and for dance I think movement and other such elements account for only a half of it. There has to be the other half, accompanying them. One may call it “dance substance” and that sizzling, restless feeling I had as a child is an essential part of the other half. Endless speculations can be made on it. Shinobu Origuchi, an ethnologist, says Odori (dance) could be Otoko-dori (getting a man) or Oto-dori (getting sound). Physical movement is essential also in sports, and these days some athletes are quite conscious of aesthetics. Then what is the unique element of dance? What distinguishes dance as dance, aside from physical movement and gestures? It is invisible. Dance consists of things invisible as well as visible. When you see several dancers engaged in the same movement, you know easily which one is  better or the best. What is the yardstick for distinction? You find a particular smell, taste, aura, or ethos in one dancer but not in another. You may say he or she has odori-gokoro (dance ethos), but it is not visible. One can grasp it. So the audience matters. A bad audience can corrupt dance. Dancers know the importance of this element, of aura or kokoro (ethos). But it is not something you can develop or nurture in the studio without an audience. Then how can one let it evolve? Most dancers have given up looking for a way to do it.

Coincidentally, many butoh dances depict movements that represent people with physical handicaps. Why do you think this is?
I think there is a grave misunderstanding behind this question. Initially, Hijikata observed and collected all kinds of human gesture, actual movement and form of human bodies. First, a lot of them came from workers and craftsmen. Carpenters, their hand movements…Then came old people, farmers, and all kinds of people at work. He would say if you are using the same tool all the time, you can’t do certain things. You cannot stretch your fingers like a ballet dancer, for example. To define the hand expression of a ballet dancer as aesthetic and that of a worker as ugly—this is just too arbitrary, he would say. Adopting handicaps into choreography…at least when he was active, he did not do that, and that was not his formula. But for those who take butoh as a style or a school of dance, those elements that do not fit widely accepted aesthetics may be perceived as resembling handicaps or as something out of norms. As long as you perceive butoh just as another category of dance, then one may find that aspect as something adopted from handicapped people. A handicap is a natural phenomenon. Hijikata once talked about something very important: old people’s hand-dementia, te-boke. An old man stretches his hand forward, for a certain purpose or to do something. But a second later he forgets the purpose. His hand,  initially stretched towards a glass, loses its purpose. It may come backward or move about ambiguously. That is old man’s hand-dementia. Hijikata said it may be pure dance. It does not embody a purpose. It comes on the way to reaching the purpose, or in the process, leading to it. It may repeat itself, may be trapped in sideways one after the other…and there one may find a secret of dance.

Is art and life connected? Butoh started in 1960s, some say as a response to the colonization of Japan by the West and as a reaction to the frustration of living in post World War II Japan. Thoughts?
Do you mean they may not be connected? Impossible. When I dance, it is an act of shooting an arrow to myself in the stage following the dance, in the everyday life awaiting me after that act. I dance because I believe I can furnish something for my time in the next stage. In this sense, dancing is purely art. All too often, dancers say, it is done, I feel refreshed…but then isn’t it like sports? You move to the utmost, you sweat, and say, I feel good! But it is only one aspect of dancing. If that’s what dance is about, silly! As for the second part of the question, in Hijikata’s case, it was not frustration but perhaps desperation over the fact that inherent elements of the people around him—their physicality above all—were being extinguished rapidly. The West or USA was something he could not reconcile with until the end. He would not apply for a passport, not go abroad, although when I invited him to go to the US with me, he fancied dancing with the black guys in Harlem, New York. Maybe he did not really mean it. But it was not out of nationalism. It had more to do with his generation or the period he was born and grew up in. His situation. He had something to do, and was doing it intact. It was not necessary to look around. In his own work and activities, he was inspired by Turner, Francis Bacon, Blaque, and by numerous poets from the West. He adapted their inspiration in his work. No one else in the same generation was so learned and had such deep insight in Western art. Antonin Artaud, in particular, was a big influence. You know the society has set a demarcation between sanity and insanity of the human psyche. It is dictated by the present capacity and status of the given society. If the capacity of a given society changes, the dividing line will also move. The public image of what is sane and what is insane vacillates. But in this regard, Hijikata on many occasions confirmed with me, “You would not go to the other side, would you?” “Min, would you go? No, you will remain on this side.” He also used to say, “Human beings chose to be flesh-based, instead of bone-based.” A very important perception. He copied many parts of Artaud’s texts by hand, like people used to copy Buddhist sutras. Not only Artaud but also Jean Genet was quite important.

Would you agree with this statement: Butoh is the interplay between light and dark, of the yin and the yang of life?
In general, we say “in a spot light,” or “I have been underground,” or “ I am depressed.” As such, it is not just in butoh that the two are involved in all forms of being and living. We just paraphrase the coexistence. We are each sources of light as well. So we are not just passively receiving or not receiving light. I am not interested in this simple question. In Indonesia, they say a day starts in the evening. Sleep is something that they go through at mid-day, while for us it come at the end of the day in preparation for a new day. A big difference.

You spent many years researching and studying dance in order to form your own dance. Have you found this dance? What does it look like?
To be honest, I don’t need “my own dance.” Is there anything as such? I can live without it or I can remain a dancer without it. But this body is me, and dancing is what this body and mind do, so I say “my dance.” But it is not “my dance” as a proprietary property. One may just say “the dance of such and such a date.” What I would like in the future is to be anonymous. Instead of saying “my dance,” I am dreaming of becoming Mr. Nobody. I am trying to change the style of my activities so that it will be unnecessary to declare I am Min Tanaka, a dancer. If your point is about how original I am as a dancer, compared to such predecessors as Nijinsky, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, I don’t care. As long as I can dance, even if what I do is not genuinely true dance, I am satisfied. When I dance, do I expect to inspire someone in the audience to dance? Not necessarily. He or she may sing, paint…and dance for me is something like that. It may be something like a physical matter. A substance. Otherwise, we will just see more and more people start dancing. That is not what dance is aiming at! Economically, an increase in disciples, dancers, and audience members may be deemed good and we tend to think in terms of homogeneous increase in volume. But what I want to see happen is quite the opposite. Since last year, I have tried to stay away from the theater or a venue dedicated to performance, and to dance anywhere and any time I feel like dancing. No date and time fixed, no posters nor flyers. I am interested in knowing if one can dance whenever one wants to.

What is the inspiration for your dance? Does it start with an idea, a song, a movement, an image?
That’s not enough. There are a whole lot more elements—something someone says, certain incidents, human and non-human elements.

Describe some of your favorite performances in the past. Does your audience sit quiet and observe or do they participate?
It depends and there are great differences depending on the place, occasion and time. There have been too many variations to explain. For instance, prior to the Velvet Revolution in Prague, hiding from the secret police, I was dancing in front of people who ventured to come. The relationship between the audience and myself then, can you imagine it? A variety of such clandestine experience. Or in a theater in Tokyo, where money can buy you a chance, you gossip around in the foyer…Big difference. A clandestine performance in Moscow in the last days of Gorbachev’s regime, the theater is crumbling and the people are shivering. If you know my activities well enough, this question sounds rather slippery. Regarding the latter half of the questions.

To be blunt, I think I can change the audience’s state of mind through the way I dance. But I don’t want do so with a predetermined scheme. I would rather see their spontaneous change. It is hard to encounter a truly independent, autonomous audience. They too are influenced by what is in fashion. They look around, cling to preconceived criteria, or intake what is supposed to be hip. Audience behavior and their responsibility make up an important theme, one worth a delving search.

How much of your dance is choreographed and how much is improvisational?
Assuming you are asking about solo dance, nothing is choreographed. No concrete movement is predetermined or composed. The progression of the dance is not preconceived either. It is more interesting a challenge when, before starting, my mind is completely blank. Ideally, as I am now, a tabula rassa. After the dance, if I don’t remember what I did,  that’s ideal. But it is different from being in a trance. I am talking about a solo performance in a theater situation. But there are other cases. When I dance in a particular place, with a certain genius loci, like the Memorial Flower Garden designed by Kenji Miyazawa (a Japanese poet/writer of early 20th Century), where I will dance in a month, I will fill myself with as much information and feeling about him as possible. Then let myself do what I can. But it is not choreography. What sort of a person do I want to be when I dance there? That is the essential question.

The center is everywhere. It is to make something between a person and another.
“I am….” does not always come first.

Is farming related to dance?
Conceptually, yes. In almost every culture and civilization, dance was born out of agricultural life. I don’t know how dance was conceived and nurtured prior to the agrarian period. How was it triggered, engendered, and imagined? But in terms of art history, yes, agriculture is at the basis of dance, I believe, in Africa, Asia, the Americas….and yes, we wanted to stand at the original point. Farm work, in a creative sense, is closely connected with dance. That our body is exposed to the outside environment, to wind, light, heat…is in itself a creative factor. It is clearly different from farm work as a means of rational production. But initially on the ancient earth, human bodies were exposed to natural conditions that were geologically and meteorologically affected, and even subterranean magma was felt. Then human body was in touch with those conditions much more intensely…some hundreds or thousands of times more perhaps…So as farmers we thought our body would vibrate with or be shocked by such phenomena, or be in rapport with them deep inside ourselves. Dance came about through such relations, we imagined. A place like this is, in this sense, an archetypal landscape for dancers. So there was an economical and pragmatic merit, but also a creative value in being exposed to and a part of the natural process of reproduction. The whole process may be called dance.

What is Body Weather Farm?
I wish no part of these long answers to be deleted. Let’s confirm it. Simply put, Body Weather is a notion of omni-centrality. Contingency as well. “I” is not the center. The center is everywhere. It is to make something between a person and another. “I am….” does not always come first. It can be, it is a viable notion. But it may drift around and be identified with someone else or some other thing. This is true about human relations, meteorological phenomena, the sun, animals, and almost everything around us. A weather-like contingent and ever-changing relationship. We brought forth this concept in 1977, founded the Body Weather Laboratory in 1978, and when we opened the farm here we named it Body Weather Farm.

How do you transition between your performance world and your non-performance world? Is it easy?
I hope you know the history of performance—performance as an announced deliberate act in a theater. Theater is a fairly recent invention in human history, and what is presented there, in terms of dance per say, is merely 1% or less of all dance practiced by humanity. So I am not interested in answering this stifle question.

How do you feel before you perform and after you perform?
I answered this already. To dance, for me, is to shoot an arrow to myself in the stage coming right after the dance. How I can affect myself in the next moment…

And what are you thinking while you perform? Do you see the audience?
I like my state of being best while dancing. I think I am most alert and smart when I am dancing. That is why I want to continue dancing. One may say it is an ecstatic state. I can think about many things at once—what I am doing, what the people in the audience are doing, their state of mind…and more over, I can add my thoughts and intentions to all such elements. It is far from a trance.

What would you do if you couldn’t dance anymore? Say you were in an accident, how would you transform the energy that motivates you to dance?
Come and interview me when it happens. I find this question rather impolite. How can you measure or appraise someone else’s conviction and courage? What criteria do you use?

Do you ever create a dance for shock value?

Most butoh dancers paint their body white as a sign of erasing one’s ego, to make a tabula rassa. There is also the symbolic reference to the spirit world in this color. You paint your body brown. Why?
I wonder why the color of our skin and the color of land are so similar. A friend of mine, an editor and writer, Seigow Matsuoka, used to say that our body has all the colors found in the natural world. Indeed…all the colors, inside and outside our body. The skin, more or less, has the color akin to the earth. So I chose to erase my private being by applying the color of the earth to my skin. I use different hues of earth color. Sometimes lighter and other times darker.

A butoh performance is not for every audience, in the same way that not everyone “gets” modern dance. What kind of person is generally receptive to watching and enjoying butoh? Do you see a wide range of people in your performances? Or are they generally artists who tend to be attracted to the avant-garde?
It is not a prerequisite for me to have people buying the tickets and coming to the theater to see dance. That is why, by necessity, my theater performances are attended by the least number of dancers. There has never been a period when I danced only in theaters. I always danced in other kinds of places and open-air spaces, and from now on I will dance almost entirely in non-theater spaces and environments. That is, from now on, I will not choose my audience, nor will people who see me dance witness it by choice. They will see it by coincidence. I may dance in the street, unannounced, and most of those who happen to be there may reject seeing it and go away. I am determined to still dance. You may be asking this question about dance as a theater-based performance art. But my audience goes beyond that. I dance to an anonymous audience that include even dead people. I don’t think that I would ever be concerned about the type or sort of people in the audience, and be influenced by that information as to what I do or how I dance. For instance, if I say I will dance and if there are ten people watching, will that dance be tailor-made for those ten? No. Even when dancing in a theater, my consciousness breaks through its walls and extends throughout the world’s space and time. Or it permeates throughout the widest span of space and time as I can imagine. It is not entertainment. It is not meant to serve a narrow given group of people. I sometimes dance for somebody who died in the near past—a tribute. Then the notion of the particular person comes into the scene. The way I dance now, sometimes my mother comes inside my body, or in a foreign country, the posture or gesture of an old lady waiting at a traffic light comes in…it happens often. It is a manner of letting others pass through my body, something like what shamans do. I think it is a rather important element of dance. Then, is it me who is dancing? To what extent is it me? In regards to painting the body white, it has to do with our yearning to become someone or something else. Metamorphosis. In the early days of butoh, dancers put plaster or flour mixed with water on their faces and bodies. It gets dried and cracks or peels off in a bizarre manner. It may look grotesque or bizarre. In traditional theater or dance, make-up was used for the actor to become the role. So you know what you should become, usually a person, the role you play. But in this manner of heavy make-up, you become something other than your private self. Neither you nor the audience knows what you have become. So the white make-up of butoh was originally a manifestation of your will to become something else—metamorphosis of no clear destination. It was rough, coarse, and pieces of plaster or flour would peel off. But now, even butoh make-up is finely done in white. No different from Kabuki. I find no particular significance in it any more. Finally, I hope that you editors see dance in a more multi-strata way and from complex heterogeneous vantage points, rather than being confined in a rigid nomenclature such as butoh and so forth. Beware that dance as art, performance art in the theater, is a minute fragment of dance in the true sense of the word.

from here

6 Comments to “I am interested in knowing if one can dance whenever one wants to.”

  1. Yesterday I was going to post this very ness….holy yum. Thank you for remembering slink san!

  2. p.s I love our antique faces together.

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