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Move like the Japanese

With the hipster quotient in the limelight, all things Japanese are reportedly fascinating. Irrespective of your claim to be one or the other, Japanese dance critic Daisuke Muto’s talk on Japanese contemporary dance and its historical context should be an interesting event. This Sunday, Dance Dialogues in association with Gothe-Institut Mumbai and the Japan Foundation will host the talk that would have travelled from Chennai (August 7-10) and will be heading to Delhi by August 16.


Kazuo Ohno, one of the founders of the Butoh dance form in Imagining La Argentina. Pic Courtesy / Emídio Luisi

Muto, an independent dance critic and Associate Professor at Gunma Prefectural Women’s University, gives us a sneak peek into his talk, “From its early modern period, Japanese dance had multiple ways of modernisation: preserving traditional forms, updating them in some way, importing Western ballet, and going just individual by throwing away all the existing forms.

The latter one has built a strong foundation for what we call modern dance today. Moreover, under this modern dance genre, Butoh showed up after the Second World War. In this period, Japanese national identity was at stake, especially within a process of going under the US control. Butoh was a rage against identity politics, which was considered as a trap to be dominated by something larger. They set a fight to emancipate bodies.”


A sketch of the dance critic, Daisuke Muto by Jecko Siompo

Muto adds, “Unlike the European version, Japanese contemporary dance has no public institution. Dancers and choreographers are independent. So they don’t have large possibility to do big productions or mesmeric spectacles, but instead on to their focus goes onto human-scale expression without showing off elaborate dance technique.”

Justifiably, the contemporary trope in Japan lacks any historical backing as Muto relays, “At the same time, having no background of traditional culture element, their expression is individualistic and extremely diverse. Therefore most works show the author’s daily, or mundane worldview. These are the major differences from other Asian regions.”

Circa Chandaralekha
As the Asian framework will be a point of reference in his talk, we prod him for his favourite dancer: “Chandralekha was great as she stretched out the potentials of traditional dance form to an incredibly remote point. I admire her achievement and that is one of the reasons why I’m intrigued about contemporary Indian dance.” The famous dancer was born in Wada (Maharashtra) and was renowned for her fusion of Bharatanatyam and Kalaripayattu.

Muto is currently working on his first piece of choreography called Kuru, Kitto Kuru (Surely It Comes About). “The piece is about ‘imagined body’ and the imagination’s resource. It is a ‘ghost picture’ performance. No one dances visibly on stage, but someone may be dancing actually,” he states.

What is butoh?
Butoh is an avant-garde performance art, germinated out of the idea of being distinctly Japanese as opposed to the western imports of Ballet and Jazz, predominantly. Kazuo Ohno, an important dancer of this form will be a point of emphasis in Muto’s talk.

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