Butoh: What Is It? Sep 29, 2016

by Erin

Performer and choreographer Alan Sutherland is known in the Seattle community as a butoh performer. But what is butoh? This description from dancer Iwana Masaki is an interesting place to start:

"I have never heard of a butoh dancer entering a competition. Every butoh performance itself is an ultimate expression; there are not and cannot be second or third places. If butoh dancers were content with less than the ultimate, they would not be actually dancing butoh, for real butoh, like real life itself, cannot be given rankings."

This dance form is, for better or worse, nearly unclassifiable. It emerged from Japan in 1959 as a reaction to the dance scene at the time, which was largely focused on imitating Western styles or following traditional Japaneses styles like Noh. To quote Wikipedia: 

Thus, [co-founder Hijikata Tatsumi] he sought to "turn away from the Western styles of dance, ballet and modern",[2] and to create a new aesthetic that embraced the "squat, earthbound physique... and the natural movements of the common folk".[2] This desire found form in the early movement of ankoku butō (暗黒舞踏). The term means "dance of darkness", and the form was built on a vocabulary of "crude physical gestures and uncouth habits... a direct assault on the refinement (miyabi) and understatement (shibui) so valued in Japanese aesthetics.

Butoh took on a life of its own all over the world and is perhaps more well-known outside of Japan. There is much controversy and thought on the actual definition of the form and who deserves credit for its invention. 

Learn more about the fascinating history of this art form at its Wikipedia page.