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Japan: Butoh Legend Kazuo Ohno Passes Away

Kazuo Ohno, legendary performer and one of the founding fathers of Butoh, passed away on June 1st at the age of 103. A quote from his bio provided by the Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio:

When he dances, he vitalizes himself. An ordinary old man becomes a somebody who gives power to others. People love to encounter Kazuo because of that. He lives long, he moves people deeply. Kazuo Ohno is an artist who has enlarged human potential.

Butoh is an avant-garde dance form that originated in post WWII Japan, characterized by white body paint and conceptual, tortured movements.

This is a clip from “Beauty and Power” called “Admiring La Argentina”. Directed by fellow Butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata and premiered in 1977, the piece is a tribute to the Spanish dancer Antonia Mercé (known as “La Argentina”), whom Ohno saw on stage in 1929 when he was 22.

Many reflected on the times they had seen Ohno perform and how it impacted them. Michiko Murayama at the True Colors blog, on the first time she saw La Argentina, several decades ago:

観客との見えないエネルギーの交換を、確信犯的に遊ぶがごとき完璧に自由な魂と肉体を目の当たりにして,痛快で笑いをこらえきれませんでした。深刻さなどとは縁遠く、果てしなく、宇宙へひろがり一体化する肉体と魂がとても自由に感じられたのでした。
美しくて、滑稽で、純で、潔くて、愛に溢れている、その存在。

当時新しいダンスの地平を求めて仲間と作品作りに日夜没頭していた日々…変化を求める時に、人はどうしても怖れや不安が出てきて当たり前なのですね。 そんな時この舞台に遭遇した私たちは、限りない勇気とエネルギーをもらい、意気揚々と劇場を後にしたのを覚えています。

He had a completely liberated soul and body on hand to exchange unseen energy with the audience, and I couldn't help but laugh out loud. Watching him play so masterfully with the interaction was absolutely glorious. The fusion of body and soul seemed to stretch endlessly to space, untouched by any kind of seriousness, and it felt so free.

Beautiful, comical, pure, spirited, and full of love… this was his existence.

During this period, I was spending my days and nights absorbed in creating dance pieces with my fellow dancers, trying to break new ground. When a person thirsts for change, it is natural for feelings of fear and uncertainty to surface. We chanced upon his performance at a time like this, and I remember that we left the theater elated, having received endless courage and energy.

Base player koyu also lists his experiences and concludes:

以前から何度も書いていますが、私にとって舞踏は自分の創作活動に指針となる芸術様式といっていいほど影響を受けております。

大野先生、長い間、ありがとうございました。

As I've written many times before, butoh is a form of art that has been a guiding inspiration to my own creative work.

Ohno Sensei, thank you so much for the many years.

Blogger fujita244 said:

力強さではなく、魂の揺れる感じ、心が襞でできていることを肉体で表現していた。
晩年の皺くちゃな肉体が、繊細な魂そのもののように見える人だった。

70歳を過ぎて国際的な評価が高まり、80歳、90歳になっても踊った。
私が見るようになったのも、この頃だった。

With his body, he expressed not strength but the wavering of the spirit and how the heart is made up of petals. His aging, wrinkly body was the delicate soul itself.

His international fame came after reaching his 70s, and he danced on into his 80s and 90s. It was during this time that I became a fan.

Kengo Nakamura posted some gorgeous shots of Ohno in Yukio Nakagawa‘s outdoor performance piece “Hanagurui” (Craze of Flowers) in 2003.

For his 100th birthday, 47 photographers who were inspired and in some ways even defined by him, put together a photo exhibition titled “Kazuo Ohno as caught on film by photographers”. The committee was headed by Eikoh Hosoe, a pillar of modern Japanese photography.

Even after he lost mobility, Ohno found ways to express himself using his arms and torso:

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