Email Interview with Paul Roquet
Paul Roquet: What interests me still about Butoh is the use of an array of techniques to thwart all attempts at intellectual interpretation. The grotesque, the androgenous, the lack of binary tensions, the emphasis on cycles… And what this means for audience response: my experience is that watching Butoh dance (when sucessful) elicits a type of meditative state: the mind calms, focuses, and drops the intellectual constructs that seperates one individual from another. I am very curious what your ideas on these matters are. I have a hard time gauging how central Hijikata’s philosophy is to today’s butoh dancers. Do Butoh creators ever deliberately aim for this non-dualistic, meditative response in creating their dance? Or are Hijikata’s philosophical foundations for Butoh just the distant underpinnings of what is now a more aestheticly-driven art form?
Shinichi: In 1999, 12 Butoh dancers from Japan, North America and Europe convened in Broellin, Germany (EX-it 99). I was one of the dancers. After all the workshops, performances and discussions, we ended up with more questions that answers. There were arguments from some that Butoh could be used for therapy, and there was passionate response that Butoh is NOT therapy.
Some said that Butoh is very new and there was response (also passionate) that Butoh was very old and not to be mixed with the “avant garde.” Any position anyone could take, there was an opposite response. There is the essential spirit of revolt and dissolution of reason. Do we live in the age of reason? If so, all the more reason to be un-reasonable.
Personally, I have been experimenting with bringing in elements of conventional storytelling into performances. But this just leads me to rip it all apart again. Action, reaction. Create only to destroy. To define a thing like Butoh in the end is to kill the spirit of it. That is partly why it changes form so drastically. There is no room for becoming comfortable. At the same time, I am very much in favor of deepening essential training which focuses on the body being danced, not dancing. The body exists at the whim of nature. To mentally construct a choreography that ignores this
is to create a false dance. The very act of construction is dangerous. As we sat in Vipassana, we spent our time trying to know the reality of our bodies. Don’t try to control the breath. Don’t imagine or visualize.
In my training, there is breath control and there is imagery. But in the end, we cannot keep the breath control and the imagery and remain true. But these are tools to use because as a human I need a focusing device, a seed to hold on to, to avoid drifting into some abstract and vague cloud. I haven’t discovered how teach without these tools. Finding truth is a goal rarely reached (can I ever say that I’ve EVER found truth?).
It’s easy for Butoh to become an aesthetically driven art form. I have fallen victim to this trap many times. But if Butoh then becomes aesthetics, then it’s like a statue of a meditator in the living room of a person who does not practice meditation. If I see the evidence of my aesthetic sense over-riding an honest dance, then I fail.
And about Hijikata, he remains the most inspirational historical person on me and my dancer life. If I read his life, his words, I am filled with the determination to keep living.