This is what I heard from a dancer.
But the biggest stars of Tokyo Butoh troupe Dairakudakan, not just the student dancers, don’t ever get paid to perform.
Instead, they must bring in money from outside jobs to a pool of funds that has been set up to support the group’s performances and other artistic activities.
So they are paying to dance _ never mind worrying about getting paid to perform.
The question has already been answered.
You dance to dance. That’s it.
The dance is separate from livelihood _ which must be dealt with outside of dance.
That’s why I think Dairakudan performers exude that absolute confidence.
They look at us with disdain because they know they are pure and we are not.
This is what I heard from a dancer.
The four suit-clad cynical undertakers perpetually wait for death with their scrutinizing flashlights.
The followers, their naked bodies painted in white, twisted red cords of umbilical cords dangling from their heads, crack their whips in merciless sadism.
And the troupe’s leader Maro Akaji _ the corpse, the mother, the imbecile _
softly fluttering his sinewy arms in the dark silence like a deformed but beautiful swan, confronts his own death and the legacy of Butoh in his “Symphony M.”
The work, his first piece centered around his solos in seven years, had a four-day run this month at Setagaya Public Theater in Tokyo.)
DAIRAKUDAKAN pieces are often filled with kitsch references to pop culture and everyday life.
The latest work is more stark, almost devoid of the usual musical score.
Stomps, the hiss of falling sand and the breaths of the dancers are what we hear.
At the opening, a rope that looks like a chain of fossilized bones and a mirror are the only props.
Often, Maro, 65, leaves much of the dancing to the younger members, and makes his appearance to mainly deliver his presence _ his energy and his message.
In this piece, he dances.
And what a dance it is _ in one moment, writhing on the floor in a painful muscular tension that defies disease and death a la Hijikata, in another, sputtering nonsensical lines as he shuffles from one dancer to another examining their poses in befuddlement.
Ultimately, the piece is all about the relationship of the artist with the future _ Maro’s complex but totally honest relationship with his dancers _ not just the dancers who accompanied him on that stage but also all the dancers and non-dancers everywhere.
It is a testament to that relationship _ and his success as troupe leader, master and teacher _ to witness how his 14 male back-up dancers are all very strong and in superb form.
They deliver so completely Maro’s choreography in both technique and spirit.
In one scene, Maro acts as a commander for his dancers, soldiers standing at attention in line.
When he shouts his final order, the dancers crumble in unison, trembling and mumbling at once, transformed into the trademark Butoh style.
It is a perfect moment _ an expression of defiance and integrity in choreographed stupor.
In the closing sequence, Maro dies, his arms outstretched like Christ, at the center of a white cube of nothingness and the eternal universe.
The dancers arduously roll that box around on the stage like the mission they are inheriting from their teacher.
But as Maro dies, he also gives birth, his face contorted in a muted scream, his legs open to the audience and to the world.
And he gives us himself, a Buoth legend.
I had the pleasure of collaborating with American/Brazilian dancer Abel Coelho July 6, at What the Dickens.
This blog was how we met.
I wrote about a Dairakudakan Butoh workshop, which Abel took part in.
He left a nice comment about the entry.
And our correspondence began.
He is in Japan again this summer.
We met at Ebisu station near the statute of the god.
We walked over to What the Dickens, then did this together.
Pretty good for two people who just met.
The MC who introduces us at the beginning of the video is poet Tomas.
A movie about a summer dance workshop led by Dairakudakan.
Metamorphosis is probably the most exciting event to witness, and that’s exactly what happens in “The Naked Summer,” a film that documents what happens to about 30 youngsters who take a Butoh dance workshop led by Akaji Maro of Dairakudakan in Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture, in 2003.
They jog, cook meals, giggle.
But something extraordinary is about to happen.
Exercises in Butoh are designed to teach the novice the methodology of the dance by confronting those Butoh moments of existence.
Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of Butoh, is supposed to have said that Butoh is the dance of a corpse.
Students of Butoh were told, as the legend goes, to become a horse, or become a dog, or feel as though their body were covered with ants, and question why your head should be on top of your neck, to achieve the slow, tense and jagged movements that characterize Butoh _ the self-proclaimed antithesis to Western dance.
Watching the youngsters tackle the assignments is fascinating:
_ Feel the space around your body, touching every fingertip, air moving like gel.
_ Sense a tragic accidental moment, even something minor striking, like a splinter piercing your foot.
_ Run and keep laughing.
_ Walk slowly, sliding your feet across the ground, while keeping your head level.
They practice and practice with a passion that’s laughable in its purity. They grimace, stretching and squeezing their facial muscles. They squirm on the floor like worms. They flap their arms, bend their bodies repeatedly, they do lifts until their backs hurt. They collapse on the floor in exhaustion.
But in the act of doing, zenlike, they become Butoh dancers.
The weeklong workshop culminates in an evening performance at an outdoor theater.
When the boys get their heads and eyebrows shaved off, the transformation is almost complete.
The youngsters cut cloth, using patterns, and sew bikini panties _ the sole items of costuming.
By the time they nervously don makeup, painting their bodies with gold paint, they are already strangers, animals from hell trapped in sinewy bodies of Buddhas.
The movie juxtaposes footage of the professional troupe’s performances with scenes from the workshop.
And that’s an eye-opener.
Having watched the novices struggle akwwardly with the simplest Butoh moves that we have seen so often performed effortlessly by the professionals, we now appreciate with more intensity the experienced dancers’ chiseled bodies and controlled movements.
Maro’s body at 60 has never been so stunningly beautiful as we watch him smile, crack jokes, lecture and gaze on with wisdom at those who are trying to take up this legacy of Japanese postwar art.
We know he knows he is running out of time to leave that understanding to the young, and we witness Maro’s recognition of his inevitable death and his sense of urgency.
We are also struck by how unique, definitive and awesome Butoh is as an art form and how it is relevant to the world today and the future these youngsters inherit.
Still, the movie, directed by Kenji Okabe, intentionally doesn’t bother to give the participants’ names, backgrounds.
They are blurs of faces.
They came and they lived a week as Butoh dancers and they will never be the same.
That’s the story this movie wants to tell.
A regular documentary might have gone back, asking some of them for a reaction, demonstrating their return to the everyday.
Instead, the movie simply shows another summer has come _ jogging and exercising under the sunlight is another batch of kids who has come to be reborn as Butoh dancers.