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Butoh: Body on the Edge of Crisis

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Butoh: Body on the Edge of Crisis

Butoh is the collective name for a diverse range of techniques and motivations for dance inspired by the Ankoku-Butoh movement (Butoh, 2006). Performers are usually covered from head to toe in white body makeup. Often times, their mouths are dyed red and their hair is pitch black, giving viewers a sharp contrast of "forbidden" colors. Movements are unnatural and grotesque in nature, almost as if the performers are in a constant state of pain. Many of these Butoh performances have themes of homosexuality and death, as actors pay homage to spirits of the body, which they describe as the unseen forces that control the flesh. Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno are widely considered to be the "grandfathers" of Butoh.

It is not difficult to see how this performance art form relates to ideas of death and ghosts. Butoh is about the ideal expression of the body and its constant states of change. Actors perform as if they were on the edge of life and death, sometimes being hung by their feet or dancing in a ritualistic style. Several of these performances include acts or suggestions of sacrifice. The most notable of these occurred when Yoshito Ohno (Kazuo Ohno's son) smothered a live chicken between his legs during what was considered the first Butoh performance. The act was the target of a great deal of criticism and ultimately resulted in the banning of Hijikata from future festivals. The public's discomfort with performances of Butoh is due largely in part with their personal views of death and spirits.

Many people, including myself, are uncomfortable watching the art of Butoh. Performances are grotesque, dark and almost satanic. They challenge our western perceptions of beauty and disrupt traditional order and convention. This is not to say that Butoh performances are not well thought out and rehearsed. On the contrary, many of these actors practice all day; endlessly attempting to find new techniques to shock and question our beliefs. In the video, we can see them living and having dinner together much like a family would. They appear to be normal people with good values and morals, but when these actors step on stage, they completely devote themselves to their art. They want to embrace the darkness within them and show that even in death, there is beauty.

It becomes more challenging to connect the art of Butoh with our ideas of garbage. Although the two entities

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