Hijikata Remembered

(In June of 1996, Akiko Motofuji, Hijikata’s widow and director of the butoh group Asbestos-kan, taught as part of the San Francisco Butoh Festival. On the last day, she spoke about Hijikata’s life and work. What follows are notes from that class.)

She talked about the origins of butoh. How it came from Hijikata’s sense of his own body being unsuited for the Western ballet and modern in which he had been trained. How the basic butoh walk was not developed from Noh or Kabuki, but from the sense of walking across muddy rice fields. How Hijikata took his inspiration from nature and learned to move by observing nature, animals and water, rock and wind. How he was never concerned with the political or social movements, but only with his art. How he would always work with his dancers from midnight to 6 AM. (At the symposium, she said this was because he said the dance of darkness is not for daylight, but in class she said it was because all the dancers had day jobs!) How Hijikata died, choreographing one last piece when he found out he had only a month to live. How, supported by his friends’ hands, he danced for them on his death bed in the last days of his life, danced until he died.

But most of all how Hijikata was trying to find a universal way of moving. How he worked starting with wind and breath, which all humans have. His vision of the one-ness of humanity (the basis of his work “A-bomb and Navel,” that all humans have a navel, have that in common). Someone asked her what she thought of Westerners calling themselves butoh artists, and she said that though she had never seen a Western butoh group, she felt that Hijikata was telling her the butoh should be free and that it was not something to hold onto, to hold to herself.

TatsumiHijikata6She said that the movement in Hijikata’s work from improvisation to choreography was made simply because of the practical necessity of working with a large company. His had grown to 30 people by the time of Hoso-tan, and simply to keep things manageable in the room he had to choreograph. But the butoh is not about technique or about imitating the form of Hijikata’s movement, but about finding our bodies’ own ways of moving.

She said that though Hijikata could be a hard man in class, yelling at his students, he was a very warm and loving man. And handsome. And fashionable. (he came in 2nd place in a James Dean look-alike contest, and, after he shaved his head, he came in 2nd place in a Yul Brynner look-alike contest) And he was a very humorous man.

She spoke about the universal experience that lay at the heart of butoh, that butoh is about finding yourself and re-finding all the things we have in childhood and lose as we grow up: the sense of wonder and excitement. While we danced she played a recording of a foetus’ heartbeat.