interview with Denise Fujiwara
describe your first meeting with your mentor and acclaimed Butoh choreographer,
Natsu Nakajima, who went on to choreograph “Sumida River” for you.
I first saw Natsu Nakajima perform
at the Festival International de Nouveau Danse in Montreal in 1986.
I witnessed in her choreography and performance, a deep sophistication
and maturity that spoke from a woman’s point of view. At that moment
I knew that I had to study with her. It would be 9 years before this
goal was realized.
you train under your mentor Natsu Nakajima? Was it a process of unlearning
and reinventing yourself?
Within 3 minutes alone in the
studio with Natsu Nakajima I came to the crashing realization that nothing
in my previous 15 years of dance training and professional practice would
be of much use in the practice of Butoh. I found myself in an amazing
new paradigm that had very different principles, required a whole new set
of skills and different ways of thinking. I started over
and it became a journey of revelations about the art of dance and life.
It is incredibly freeing to become a beginner again. One can learn
very quickly when there is no ego to impede the process.
is interpreted in the Butoh style, also incorporating the essence of Mai
- the sacred internal dance of Noh. Could you tell us about Noh and Butoh
as you practice it?
Sumida River is inspired
by the 15th century Noh play Sumidagawa. It is fitting that
the choreographer sought inspiration from “mai” or the sacred, internal
aspect of Noh theatre as a foundation for the work and this is an element
of its performative style.
Natsu Nakajima was one of the
first women involved in the Butoh movement. She was mentored by the
two most important figures of Butoh, its founders Tatsumi Hijikata and
Kazuo Ohno. She embodies Butoh in her dance. Like her teachers,
she herself possesses a special genius as a choreographer and performer.
It is a great honour to perform this work.
said it took you over 5 years to incorporate all the concepts Natsu Nakajima
taught you in “Sumida River”. How have your performances in this work evolved
over the years?
The performances of Sumida River
have deepened over the years so that the performances are now more layered,
have a greater life-force, a vividness that they did not have in the early
Is the term
Butoh now mainly used for ballroom dancing in Japan? Is "Ankoku Butoh"
the correct term used now in Japan?
The word butoh is made up of
two characters, “bu”, which means to dance and “to” which means “to step”
and was until the late 1970’s the word most commonly used to describe any
non-Japanese form of dance. Ankoku means ‘pitch black”.
Ankoku Butoh is the name given by Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno to the
revolutionary dance -theatre movement they founded in 1969 and can be translated
as “the dance of utter darkness”. The name was shortened to “Butoh”
in the late 1970’s as the 2nd and 3rd generation of choreographers emerged
and with aesthetic goals that had evolved away from the original founding
How do you
intend to work with Indian dancers at your ten-day workshop in Chennai?
Do you anticipate any challenges?!
Butoh is a way of working from
vivid internal conditions expressed through intense physicality.
It is dance-theatre training that endeavors to reveal an inner life of
authenticity and depth to express one’s humanity in all of its irrationality,
ugliness, beauty and mirth.
We’ll go on to apply this to the
development of a short work of choreography.
Challenges are an important part
of the creative and learning process. I expect we’ll meet our fair
share of them and that they will teach us a lot.