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Kazuo Ono

“The dancer’s costume is to wear the universe.”
– Kazuo Ono

This description of a class with Kazuo Ono is taken from a wonderful and unfortunately out of print book by Jean Viala and Nourit Masson-Sekine called Butoh: Shades of Darkness.

kazuo.3A class with Kazuo Ono is no ordinary class. When does the class begin? When we take the train from Tokyo to Yokohama? When we climb the path which leads to the house on a hill? While we sit around the table in his studio, drinking tea and listening to him before beginning to work?

Sitting crosslegged in his armchair, he speaks, “My art is an art of improvisation. It is dangerous. To succeed, one must first reach the very depths of the human soul, and then, express it …”

He says that he doesn’t like to teach, that he doesn’t know how. And this is true. He doesn’t “teach.” He nourishes; he guides; he provokes; he inspires. This is undoubtedly the difference between a “master” and a “teacher.”

The class begins. He assigns a subject for improvisation. The “dead body” is a theme he often suggests. “What could be the life of that which is dead? It is this impossibility that we must create.” He explains that for his dance, we must not try to control the body, but to let the soul breathe life into the flesh.

He adds: “Be free! Let go!” Being free is not doing what we want or what we think. On the contrary, it means being liberated from thought and will. “You are happy because you are free. You smile: a flower blossoms in your mouth.”

He approaches a student who is holding his arms above his head. He indicates the limits of space thus formed and tells him, “There is an entire universe here.” He then adds, “Paradise is at your fingertips.” To another he hints, “I am glad to be alive!” Then for all to hear: “You are glad to be alive!”

He later explains that the illogical is liberating, that the impossible opens new paths. “Today, you will dance Hamlet in a world of frogs.”

Although he will sometimes correct a pose or explain the elementary movement of the body, he generally avoids imposing the slightest technique; it is up to the student to create whatever techniques are necessary. Ono is there to open up the imagination, to help discover the soul. He guides the student so that he can become like “the creator of the world, he who has no identity, he who existed before the appearance of the individual. Then, all is but a game.”