My Encounters with Butoh

December 16, 2017

Butoh is a form of dance originating in Japan just after World War II. Its creators rejected both the imitation of western dance styles and the classic Japanese theatrical forms of Noh and Kabuki. The raw emotions that early butoh evoked grew out of Japanese war and early post-war experiences. It has been described in the New York Times:

BUTOH IS NOT FOR THE FRAIL. THE AVANT-garde dance form that today is Japan’s most startling cultural export does not aim to charm. Instead, it sets out to assault the senses. The hallmarks of this theater of protest include full body paint (white or dark or gold), near or complete nudity, shaved heads, grotesque costumes, clawed hands, rolled-up eyes and mouths opened in silent screams.

I first saw butoh performed by a Japanese company, Sankai Juku, at SUNY Purchase around 1995. I bought a book of photographs of that company, but beyond that I had no contact with butoh until I met Douglas Allen, a member of Ollom Movement Art, a performance company guided by the choreographer, John Ollom. John, with Douglas assisting. facilitated a weekend in which the participants created their own movement art pieces. I supervised the video-taping of their work.

When I learned that Douglas had studied and practiced butoh, I invited him to perform during the weekend and suggested he use the mud pit that was part of the facility where we were working.

I forgot about the footage I had shot that day. Seven years later I edited it into the form shown above – a form that for me demonstrated the spirit of butoh. I could write a whole book and not cover everything that could be said to define this dance form,. Writing this book would be complicated by the fact that butoh perfomers often avoid giving verbal explanation of their work.

This was the case with Hiroko Tamano, a Japanese performer who has taught in the U.S.

When a completely new student arrived for a workshop in 1989 and found a chaotic simultaneous photo shoot, dress rehearsal for a performance at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall, workshop, costume making session, lunch, chat, and newspaper interview, all “choreographed” into one event by Tamano, she ordered the student, in broken English, “Do interview.” The new student was interviewed, without informing the reporter that the student had no knowledge what butoh was. The improvised information was published, “defining” butoh for the area public. Tamano then informed the student that the interview itself was butoh, and that was the lesson.
                           — From a Wikipedia article on butoh

My feeling is that my video goes beyond being a video of a butoh performance, it also is butoh.

In the book of Genesis, it is written, “God created man in his own image.” As we were created in the image of God, like God we are creators. AlixSandra Parness has written “Creativity is at the heart of the human spirit.” I knew this before I read AlixSanrda’s words. Something in me has always told me that I was a creator. Even as a young boy, when I began to write first words and then music, I was dimly sensing my creative potential. Now, as a mature man, I sense how my creative power is one with the infinite creative power of the Universe.

Through creativity, I’m joined with everyone in the universe. When I listen to a Beethoven symphony, I am connected with the composers soul, and through him I am connected to the heart of God and the hearts of all God’s creation.

At Easton Mountain, we celebrate creativity. Our statement of values includes : “Creativity, celebration, fun and gaiety.” The coming year will see a small company of professional dancers in residence under the direction of choreographer John Ollom, creating a work that speaks to the experience of male-male love. I’ll be working with video to document or perhaps create a finished work of dance video. Details will appear in this blog as the project develops.


I will be hosting another tele-seminar next Sunday, February 20. At the last seminar, there was a technical difficulty that prevented some of those who called in from speaking to everyone. This time, in keeping with the theme of  “Talking About Sex and Spirit,” I’ll be keeping all the phone lines open so that everyone can be part of the discussion.

I have been working with John Ollom on a documentary of his movement art piece “M. U. D. (Me Under Dirt).” Part of that work was created using his system of choreography through psychic exploration, called Internal Landscapes©.

This past weekend I helped facilitate at retreat at Easton Mountain where John taught Internal Landscapes©. I came to a new realization of the depth of that process and and how it informs his work.

Three of the five performers in M.U.D. represent archetypes: The Divine Masculine, the Divine Feminine, and the Shadow. They are aspects of John, but because the work was created collaboratively using Internal Landscapes© they also come from the psyches of the other performers. Since the archetypes are universal, it’s no surprise that the elements created by each performer blend into a unified whole. Each performer is embodying an archetype that is both within himself and within John.

I’ve described M.U.D. as “Pilobolus with a violent edge.” You can see some of this in the trailer that’s on YouTube. It seems understandable that a shadow personality should be violent, but recognizing that the divine masculine and the divine feminine may also be part of our inner turmoil requires deep investigation of our psychological makeup. After seeing and filming M. U.D. several times, my own epiphany has been that all evil may be inappropriate expression of internal archetypes.

During the retreat, I had an opportunity to work with the process of Internal Landscapes©, and I found myself exploring the archetype of the priest. My work has been videotaped, but that will be a subject for another posting on this blog.

Some Video I Recently Shot

November 2, 2009

One of my recent adventures has been shooting some video footage for a documentary on the work of choreographer John Ollom.  Some of that footage and some of my editing has been incorporated into a trailer for the performance that the company will do November 15 at the Cinema Arts Center in Huntington, NY. Even if you don’t live on Long Island or in the NYC area, it’s worthwhile to watch the clip below to see the raw power of naked male dancers.

M.U.D. (Men Under Dirt) will be performed at Easton Mountain in the spring of 2010 as part of an arts retreat: Expressing Your Inner Self.

What’s Up?

May 19, 2008

On Sunday, June 1, at 4:00 p.m., I’ll lead a two-hour workshop

Sound and Spirit 

How Drumming and Chanting Can Increase Our Connection with the Divine.  

Drumming is often used in shamanic journying to bring about an altered state of consciousness, and chanting is frequently a part of meditation.  I’ve been using both for many years, and welcome this  opportunity to share these techniques more directly than I can through this blog.

The workshop will be at New York’s Gay and Lesbian Center, 208 W. 13th St., Manhattan.  It is one of the monthly gatherings sponsored by Easton Mountain.

After the workshop, I’ll stay for John Ollom’s nude class for men, “Internal Landscapes,” which is also offered at The Center.

What’s Up?

April 20, 2008

Today I updated the calendar on my website.  It now includes an afternoon and evening in NYC on May 4. In the afternoon I’ll attend an introduction to shamanic journeying, and in the evening I’ll participate in a nude dance/exercise class with John Ollom.  My calendar also includes a trip to Colorado in June to attend the annual conference of the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energy and Energy Medicine. While in Colorado, I will be part of a training in Polycontrast Interference Photography – a method of analyzing the human energy field.

Fascinating, fantastic, fabulous: these are words that came to mind after John Ollom’s introductory two-hour workshop, “Internal Landscapes.” We started by writing our thoughts. From our writings we each selected three words from which we created a short movement sequences. In groups of three or four men, we put our sequences together – one part of this, one part of that. Then he had us modify our phrases by introducing various elements of dance composition: unison, sequence, level, direction, and space. I was sweating. It was aerobic – but I wasn’t thinking about working out. This was fun!

My second class with John – an “Ollom Technique” class – started in the floor. We relaxed. We noted tension in our bodies. He asked us to release the tension as we took off our shirts, then our trousers. For the rest of the class we were naked. The class focussed on abdominal strength and flexibility, but it was also fun. Some of the work was done with a partner. We ended with a brief choreographed sequence. I left feeling exhilarated, with a new respect for my body.

What’s Up

January 28, 2008

I have recently updated my Calendar. It includes an event in New York City and a retreat with John Ollom and other events at Easton Mountain Retreat. Check it out.

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