"You connect to their world not by watching, but by imagining that you are living inside their bodies."
Percussion pounds in the distance as identical, scantily clad figures with snow white faces move together through time in a slow, fluid motion—an odd combination of spiritual ritual and martial art. The slowness is gripping, the stillness is suffocating, and a sense of awe emerges from the twisting and tangling of limbs and faces.
Butoh, Japan's inimitable form of modern dance was founded in the post war period by Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno. Hijikata felt dance in Japan following World War II was merely a copy of Western dance and wanted to create a form uniquely Japanese. A sense of rebellion permeated butoh performances, which emerged from a backdrop of student riots and protests. The movements were incredibly raw, as though animal instinct and sexual desire governed the dancers. This was intentional, as Hijikata and Ohno sought to tackle taboo ideas regarding human sexuality and challenge authority by showcasing the human body’s untamed movements.
Two contemporary artists who tamed the untamed are the legendary husband and wife choreography/dance team Eiko and Koma. Though they met at Hijikata's studio in 1971 and studied with Ohno, they don't consider their dance butoh out of respect to the masters. Nonetheless the influence manifests itself in their style. In her fantastic recent New York Times profile of the "king and queen of slow", Gia Kourlas describes Eiko and Koma's movement:
While the moving-painting quality of their choreography is profoundly arresting, both theatrically and visually — they find the beauty in ugly — there is another layer that gets to the essence of nature. You connect to their world not by watching, but by imagining that you are living inside their bodies.
Japan Society, which debuted Eiko and Koma in 1976 and has presented them many times to great acclaim, hosts Eiko & Koma: Delicious Movement Workshop. The venerable duo hopes that anyone who takes their workshop—no matter what level of dance experience—find a renewed sense of focus and coordination, as well as take a primal pleasure in the simple act of moving one’s body.
The one-day workshop is held on December 4. Tickets are $40 or $32 for Japan Society members.