Destruction, Creation, and the In-between DEC 2003
Interview with Shinichi Iova-Koga by Alaska Yamada
I recently saw “Heaven’s Radio,” performed by inkboat, a theater group founded and led by Shinichi Iova-Koga, and although thoroughly engaging, provocative and dark it was also funny, frenetic, and ultimately uplifting.
Alaska: What is Butoh? Is it a style, a tradition, an ideal?
Shinichi: Hijikata had become frustrated because he wanted to find a new dance. He tried German Neue Tanz and other European types of modern dance, but had failed as THAT kind of dancer. So he shifted gears [mid 1950’s] wanting to find a new dance specifically for the Japanese body. He grew up in the Tôhoko region of Japan, and the Tôhoko region is very cold and hard. [He took] directly from his childhood experiences in this harsh climate to help create the Butoh body. In the process, from the time he started to the time he died (1986), Hijikata dramatically changed the texture, nature, feeling and quality of his Butoh. Hijikata said to his primary student Yôko Ashikawa, “You must throw my method onto the fire, you must destroy everything I’ve created in order to continue making Butoh.”
A: Was that because he saw Butoh as a particularly personal expression?
S: Only through destruction can creation happen. Through death, life comes. If nothing dies, nothing is destroyed. If everything is permanent then everything is really dead because nothing can change. But change is irresistable, so why pretend we can set anything? There’s a certain mentality, which I associate with the “Western” nations, that doesn’t wish to accept death or destruction. If I’m too adherent to the way my teachers taught, then I will be stale and lose my life. I have no life if I am only a pale imitation of my teacher, and I have no intention of being that. I intend to be myself. So the food I eat, the air I breathe, everything that comes into my body transmutes. Whatever I learn transmutes, so I have to destroy my teacher’s teachings to really be true to their teachings. That’s a destruction of ideas, but it’s the real creation of ideas.
A: What would you say is at the core of butoh? What’s the constant element that needs to exist within your own interpretation in order for it to be Butoh?
S: The form can keep changing, but in Butoh it is essential to go into the most deep, dark place – and not stay there. You must also find the lightest, most bright place. If you go to the darkest place and just wallow there, I’m bored. I don’t want to see someone JUST suffering. Hijikata’s own works had much humor, but most people only pick up on his dark points or images.
A: The darkness is often what people relate to Butoh. When you mention butoh, people think it’s that really dark, difficult Japanese stuff.
S: Butoh (and I think all forms should be like this) must come back to that baby place where you’re not LYING anymore. You’re not lying with your body, you’re not lying with your voice. Performance is all artifice; we’re creating something on a stage whether that stage is the street or a theater stage. It is meant to be seen. But within the artifice exists truth. Anything that’s stylized is not necessarily the way people act on the street, but stylization is sometimes more true than plain speech.
A: Why do you think people only take away the hard aspects of Butoh over the more joyful? Do you think it’s because people want to identify with the “deeper” side?
S: The truth is because people have simple minds. People need that extreme image to describe what they have seen. Butoh dance, because it goes into the darkness, is different from other forms in it’s approach, but in the end it’s just life. My hope is that people see things as they are – positive and negative. Honesty makes people uncomfortable. It’s a scary thing to be really honest. We have to be OPEN and all the vulnerabilities we try so hard to protect are on display.