No rules, forms or prescribed technique. Butoh is a discovery of inner movements, says noted Butoh dancer Atsushi Takenouchi in a conversation.

How many times after you strike up a conversation with a dancer do you end up seriously wondering about how and why the human race lost its connection with nature? A chat with Butoh dancer Atsushi Takenouchi was one such instance. Atushi, along with accompanying musician Hiroko Komiya, had been invited by the Prakriti Foundation to conduct intensive workshops in Chennai and Puducherry for artists in other disciplines. During his stay, he also performed some of his acclaimed choreographies, among which was the performance titled “Stone”. Butoh is described as an art form that evolved in Japan in the 1950s as a response to the rigidity in social norms that forbade a lot of things. This “body revolution” gave the performer the freedom to do whatever movement he/she chose to do — no rules or technique, unlike in their society. “It is a kind of dance where each dancer is totally different as each finds his/her own inner movement.” Atsushi further explains this concept by saying, “This tree and that one over there both come from the earth but they are different.” The obvious question to this response would be, then what is there to teach when Butoh has neither a technique, form nor defined movements? It is the concept that people need to be taught to understand. A concept as simple as a flower blooming, fire burning, rain pouring or a child growing.

Vital imagination

“To find your inner movement for each concept, you need imagination. It is imperative not to think. If you are tree, don't think how to move like tree; just be the tree. If we start thinking then there is only confusion.” This statement is in total contrast to what we have learnt so far in other dance forms — stick to the style and technique. It is understood that when a performer learns Butoh, he/she learns to connect more with the dance and learns to perform for the soul — sounds like the much-debated concept of manodharma in the classical art forms.

Atsushi started learning Butoh at the age of 18, quite an early start considering most in Japan take to the art form only after the age of 40, when there are physical limitations on the body. For Atsushi, it was a fascination with nature that got him interested in Butoh which is practically unknown outside the artistic circles. “I didn't want to learn any choreographed dance. If I looked at fire, I wanted to dance like it. Butoh has a very similar concept to what I felt.” After six years with a Butoh company, Atsushi moved out to become a solo performer and even set up his own Butoh company, called Jinen Butoh.

Atsushi performs on themes that represent his understanding of nature, that everything comes from and is a part of nature, be it a storm, stone seats, even electricity. “Usually when we think of nature, we think of a mountain or tree but everything comes from nature, and everything returns to nature. Nature is everything.”

Beyond definitions

Other Butoh companies, he says, don't restrict themselves to nature, unlike himself. Some even perform about contemporary society. “We cannot say this is or this is not Butoh. There is movement in everything. Even a baby that does not consciously think about dance, does it when inside its mother. Even before we learn to dance, there is dance.”

Atsushi has been living in France since 2002, owing to the higher demand for his workshops in Europe and also to experience new cultures, people and “nature”, because life's experiences are what make a Butoh performance what it is. “Japan is a very little, organised and comfortable country. Yet, there is not enough sensitivity in people; they all work like robots. I like Japanese history and culture, but living there is a little bit constricting.”

Atsushi and his partner Hiroko Komiya tour the world performing and conducting workshops. Hiroko is a musician who plays along during Atsushi's performances. The music helps the movement in a Butoh performance, and it ranges from the natural sounds of water, wind, stones, bamboo to instrumental ones.

Visiting India for the first time, Atsushi says, “I am unconsciously taking in a lot of energy from this country, which I am sure will have an impact on my performances.”

Towards the end, the conversation comes back to nature and the environmental problems plaguing the earth. “Humans and tree come from the earth but due to evolution we got separated. We need to connect back with nature and understand it. At present, the human environment is crazy because we have lost connection with many things. Through Butoh dance I want people to understand the different connections we have with nature and start re-connecting”.

Keywords: dancenature

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Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012