Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"La danza del Padre" Comic Strip and Video fo the First Movement: Le père qui danse

In La Danza del padre (Father's dance) creation-process the original drawings have got movement, first through the shape of a comic strip and now as a video. Its singular drama is getting more power and clarifying its theatrical story.

These are only tests, experiments around, but I'm almost sure  that's the way to do this. I'm very excited because everything is new for me and feel passionate exploring it.  

First movement: Le père qui danse

Basic or original drawing 

Comic strip based in the original drawing and text of the First Movement

(*) "Trapped By Time" by Subliminal
is licensed under a Creative Commons license:

Texts, photographs and videos in this Blog are all author's property, except when marked. All rights reserved by Gustavo Thomas. If you have any interest in using any text, photograph or video from this Blog, for commercial use or not, please contact Gustavo Thomas at

Friday, May 20, 2011

At the beginning are the founders, prayer and the offering. (Learning Butoh with Yoshito Ohno)

The three Butoh masters in an improvised niche. Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio. (2011)
Butoh is young, very young; it was born in the fifties of the 20th century and it specifically recognizes a single founder, Tatsumi Hijikata. Hijikata discovered in Kazuo Ohno his partner for revolution. Kazuo then becomes the co-founder of the new style and, according to others, its counterpart as well: while Hijikata worked what was grotesque, dark, tense and destructive, Kazuo worked what was bright, soft, loving. Through them both Butoh takes on an unusual expansion and its influence will cover hundreds of artists of all fields around the world.

The first thing master Yoshito Ohno did, after we introduced each other, was to show me a book with photographs by William Klein, 'Tokyo', with images of Kazuo Ohno, Tatsumi Hijikata and Yoshito Ohno doing a "happening" in Shimbashi area in 1960. It was like telling me that he was part of the big moment in Butoh (and indeed he was part of it; a kind of presentation of himself as someone to be trusted.

William Klein Photograph of Kazuo Ohno, Tatsumi Hijikata and Yoshito Ohno. (1960)
William Klein photograph of Kazuo Ohno, Tatsumi Hijikata and Yoshito Ohno. (1960)

Yoshito Ohno has always been there; from the beginning he has been an observer and a total practitioner of the Butoh revolution in Japanese art, of its development and its changes: as a teenager he took part in several performances by and with Hijikata, he learned from his father how to dance, he saw Hijikata die and accompanied his father in every performance during his last 30 years. Being part of its own mythology, Yoshito Ohno transmits Butoh through the example of the creators in the same place in which Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata worked for years, where Kazuo Ohno left his own legacy.
Yoshito Ohno dancing at his father studio. (2011)
Therefore, any instruction to follow in the workshop of master Yoshito Ohno has as a benchmark either of the two founders of Butoh, some of their movements, some of their anecdotes, some of their speeches, some of the comments by others on their work: if you're going to move your hands, master Ohno talks about Hijikata's hands when he was on stage, about how they seemed to emanate energy from the fingers and palms; if it had to do with the feet, he speaks of how Hijikata had such strength in his feet that, the day he died, at midnight, a sparrow came and stood on them for a moment; if you're going to work with the gaze, he talks about how Kazuo avoided the gaze directed toward the ground while he moved along the floor or how he seduced theater technicians with movement and gaze exercises that earned him the respect of those who did not know who he was. If someone had talked about the creation of a surreal body in Kazuo (and that's what a Japanese critic called it), that served us to search for our our own surreality and create it in our body. In the beginning there are always the founders of Butoh.
They then, the creating teachers, are our starting point and inspiration. To them we also offer our work.
And before every offering, we learn to pray.
Never before, until the first day of work with master Yoshito Ohno, had I heard of the idea of praying on stage, in a way so simple, and without implying any religion. Several Western teachers had told me about a sacred workspace, but they seemed clumsy attempts to sanctify something that was totally alien to us.

When my first exercise with master Ohno was just to pray, something new appeared: in his way of saying it (I was lucky to have someone translate for me in real time during that session), in his intonation, in his eyes, the instruction was different; we should take the first step by praying, the first exercise, that is, the first movement, the first movement improvisation.
The first step is, always, to pray.
Yoshito Ohno explained to us that Butoh dance was born out of the memories in Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno of the terrible tragedies of the Second World War, their hatred and their pain; he talked about how Kazuo had suffered in his journey back to Japan from the Philippines, of how he had seen people die on the boat, and that he prayed with them, with those images, and that he also offered them his movement. Then he would ask: what's in your prayer? about what do you pray? for whom do you pray? And that way we began to move.
Yoshito Ohno playing the same music as his father did. (2011)

Every day the starting working sentence was "pray"(inoru "
, then he would go where there the sound system was and began playing records, two, three, four pieces: Schubert's Ave Maria (which Kazuo so appreciated), Il mio babbino caro (by Maria Callas), Amazing Grace, or pieces of Buddhist music. And then we prayed, day by day, and each session, and in its repetition new possibilities for prayer were in us: I prayed for those dead who Kazuo saw, for my own dead ones, I prayed for the image of a dying Kazuo, for the feet of Hijikata's corpse, I prayed for my own past ... and I moved, like the others who were there and  who also prayed and moved.
Learning how to pray through movement. Yoshito Ohno's Butoh Workshop. (2011)

From that praying came the offering, our movement as an offering: the story of that offering by Kazuo for all those dead people was profoundly powerful, just as the one in which he dedicated his dances to his mother, to the great love he felt for her, where his prayer turned into the sensation of an umbilical cord on stage which was in reality a huge womb.
That offering was a petition, a petition to our strength, to the workspace, contact with it, all our senses on it, with all four corners, four sides, the ground, the sky.
Our movement shouldn't be external, prayer and the offering should be internal: "Nobody knows how you must pray and offer yourself, only you, find your prayer, find your way of offering by moving." It is an ongoing exploration.
That was more than a month ago and today, back home, I still do that, exploring;  every day I wake up to move and pray with the momentum of those searching sessions in Yokohama ... Why? I can not say for sure why, I just think I simply need it now.

Texts, photographs and videos in this Blog are all author's property, except when marked. All rights reserved by Gustavo Thomas. If you have any interest in using any text, photograph or video from this Blog, for commercial use or not, please contact Gustavo Thomas at

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio in Yokohama: The Place and its Objects.

Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio (Yokohama, 2011)

The first step is the place, the space: no one can imagine dance without a space.
My dream to visit, step into and and learn at the study of Kazuo Ohno in Yokohama must then begin by a small account of the space.
Kazuo Ohno built his studio, back in the 60's, next to his home on the hills of Kamihoshikawa, part of Yokohama's metropolitan region, less than an hour by train from central Tokyo. It was, and still is, a humble studio, simple but very functional: it has a wooden floor, a piano, several closets, a bathroom, a kitchenette, lounge chairs, a television, a glass cupboard, a sound system, a small illumination system; it's built from wood and metal sheets, with a group of supports that, when it rains, keep the studio from flooding by water running down the hill; outside, there is a shelf for shoes and a basket for umbrellas . From the entrance one can see the dining room and part of the kitchen of Ohno's house, and one feels ashamed to enter into the privacy of the home and prefers to look away.
Getting to the studio is a journey, is not easy, and everyone gets lost their first time, be they foreigners or Japanese - it's not a matter of language. And that's because, being in a hilly area where alleys and labyrinthine stairs are the only ways, one can not find the one alley and stair leading to the studio. For about 35 minutes I went up and down the hill several times, took several stairs, asked passers-by, checked the map a dozen times; exhausted and with so tired my legs were shaking, in the end I decided to take the first alleyway off the road and follow its roundabout path and there, after a turn which was not visible from the main road, the sight of the stairs that would finally lead to the study.
Mid-way up the hill you discover a wooden sign that reads, in Japanese and English, "Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio."
Sign entrance at Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio (Yokohama, 2011)

I was finally in front of that sign, a highpoint in my life as a student: I was there after that weary journey to find the place, after a month of uncertainty due to the earthquake in the north of the country and problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, after a year of studying and discovering Butoh dance with several teachers in Canada, and after a little more than 20 years after first seeing the figures of Kazuo and Yoshito Ohno on stage, setting their work as an example before all my students, my colleagues and myself. There was I, in front of that sign, and I stood there for several minutes.
It was night already, some wind was blowing lightly, you could hear the trains passing in the distance,  you could also hear some crickets, and nothing else.
Before meeting master Yoshito Ohno I got to know the studio, I could see his objects exactly as Kazuo Ohno used them (Yoshito Ohno has respected in full the arrangement of things and nothing has changed place): his chair, his music, his dolls, puppets and masks, his books, his costumes, the shoes of his female characters, his hats, the floor.
As is the usual Japanese (and Eastern) custom, you leave your shoes at the entrance and enter barefoot, that way you can go around the premises with the confidence that you won't damage anything nor will bother anyone the noise of your walking. And so I did, I entered like that, barefoot, and so I stepped where Kazuo and Yoshito stepped and danced together, where sometime they stepped and danced along with Hijikata, where now, by himself, Yoshito Ohno steps and dances, as the heir that is .
I remembered some pantomime class that I had taken in my university years, where for the first time in my life I heard the idea that the workspace was a sacred place, that you should greet it and ask it for permission to enter. I thought of the feet of the teachers, of their bodies falling and rolling, and to those images, as my mother used to say, I "entrusted myself"
In my stepping I checked all of the space and my eyes fell on a picture on a tiny wooden chair: was the moment when Pina Bausch visited an ailing Kazuo and gave him a kiss; a really beautiful photograph, a very hard one, which made me tremble. Strange paradoxes of life, Pina visited the ailing, and perhaps dying Kazuo, but she would die a year before him.

Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio (Yokohama, 2011)

I know some of you, artists or not, understand my dwelling on this first step into the workspace of the studio of master Ohno, my devoting a blog entry to this account of the place where one has dreamed of being and of learning in.  I know some of you have dreamed of stepping into a place you really felt was sacred; it is you I'm addressing and for whom I write these texts, I took these photos and this video that illustrates that first step in my visit to the dance studio of master Kazuo Ohno in Yokohama, last April 20th 2011.

Texts, photographs and videos in this Blog are all author's property, except when marked. All rights reserved by Gustavo Thomas.
If you have any interest in using any text, photograph or video from this Blog, for commercial use or not, please contact Gustavo Thomas at

Saturday, May 7, 2011

"La danza del Padre" Visual Art around the project.

"La danza del padre", my theatrical project during this 2011, has become a very visual work as well a literary one. This time I'd like to show you (aside those drawings I made around the basic text of the story) some of the pieces of digital painting I've been realized during this process:

La Chûte ou Le fils rêve (The fall or The son dreams)

Pére et fils (Father and son)

Le fils faché (The angry son)
If you are interested in using any text, image or video from this Blog, please contact the author writing your e-mail and information in comments. (comments are private)
Gustavo Thomas. Get yours at