This article was posted on 07 Jun 2013, and is filed under e-Journal, Volume 2, Issue 2.

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Butoh: challenging the confines of the sensible

Eleni Lorandou

Abstract: My research attempts to trace the process of evolution of the concept of the body in Butoh practice and performance as experienced by the dancers themselves and as viewed by the spectator. A process that is not only seen as taking place on the physical plane defined by the readily traceable, visible contours of the sensible but also as a subtler process of inner transformation that leads the dancer towards transcendence of the body’s materiality.

Analysing briefly Hijikata Tatsumi’s first butoh performance, it can be seen that butoh dancers initially problematised the body by stripping it from all artificiality – literally from clothes and metaphorically from the restrictions of social norms. That translated a vivid desire to return to a primitive, pre-reflexive state of being – evoking Japan’s mythical past – in which movement would urge spontaneously without any conscious dictates. Or, I will argue that this is not possible unless the classic dichotomy between a thinking mind and an acting body disappears and the dancer becomes, in phenomenological terms, conscious of the world through his body.

An exploration of Yoko Ashikawa’s experience on stage shows that the ‘full’ consciousness of existing ‘in’ the body is simultaneously experienced as a state of emptiness, of forgetfulness of the ‘I’ in which dancing is experienced as a movement from the body of matter to the nonmaterial larger body of a universalized self.

For the dancers of Sankai Juku, the preoccupation with the transcendence of the materiality of the body becomes systematic. Observing their itinerary from the 80’s till present, it is seen how with its materiality continuously challenged, the dancing body unveils its potentiality to carry the dancer towards the unknown and to unlock the secrets of the inner self.

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Eleni Lorandou has studied classical Manipuri dance (North-East India) with Guru Bipin Singh, Kalavati Devi and the Jhaveri sisters. Twice an ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) scholar, she has a Masters in Dance from Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta and a PhD in Performing Arts from Pune University. She has performed mainly in India and assisted in many seminars and workshops. She has researched extensively on Indian, Indonesian and Japanese dance and theatre with focus on the subtleties of movement and gesture but also on the underlying philosophy. After an MA in Philosophy from Paris, in 2012 she began research towards a doctorate on Kashmir Shaivism with Lancaster University.

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