In Conversation with Butoh artists Yumi Umiumare and Takashi Takiguchi

    Over the last two months, we’ve been discovering the many faces of Butoh, a Japanese performance art traditionally known for its dark and grotesque nature, now shaking up its image with modern reinventions. The Convent’s second ButohOUT! Festival, centering on the theme ‘Forbidden Laughter’, has invited performers, children and now audiences to crack a smile at the surreal comedy of contemporary Butoh.

    We chat with the acclaimed artists behind the ButohOUT! Festival, Yumi Umiumare and Takashi Takiguchi, ahead of the upcoming performance showcase at the Convent from 2 – 12 May.

    Butoh was conceived in Japan in the late 1950s during the social turmoil following the Second World War. Can you tell us how Butoh has evolved over the decades to remain relevant to audiences today?

    Butoh was originally created by Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of Ankoku Butoh (Dance of Darkness) in the 1960s as a very specific style. Certain practitioners around the globe have been trying to follow the Hijikata style, and others have been extending the classic styles, or reinventing new styles of their own. Today, Butoh spans diverse styles and philosophies.

    Through the ButohOUT! Festival, we seek to explore, capture and define ‘the spirit of Butoh’, and its relevance in Australian contemporary lifestyles. We know the work is striking a chord with our audiences. We have received incredibly strong and positive feedback from audiences who have never seen Butoh in their life, so we know this art form can be extremely impactful to people.

    This performance season is part of ButohOUT! Festival 2019. Can you tell us about the festival and the value in sharing Butoh with Melbourne performers and audiences? 

    Butoh goes beyond the confines of specific culture, gender, status and religion, aspiring to universal expression that touches the true nature of humanity. Through the festival, we create platforms for artists and non-artists to express their unique qualities through their bodies, in order to celebrate and embrace our diverse beings. The 2019 performance season features 29 performers who are coming from all sorts of diverse backgrounds, ages, and body conditions.

    Can you tell us about what’s in store for audiences at this year’s ButohOUT! performance showcase?

    Forbidden Laughter celebrates the powerful performance medium of Butoh, inviting audiences to experience surreal narratives within a bizarre and mysterious installation in the Convent’s historic Industrial School.                           

    Forbidden Laughter creates strange and absurd stories woven between worlds that are mythically sacred and divinely carnal. We’re collaborating with award-winning performer Maude Davey, the unstoppable force of Weave Movement Theatre, devious duo Willow J Conway and Zya Kane, and the ButohOUT! Ensemble. The sensibilities of East and West will collide in a contemporary setting designed by internationally acclaimed Thai sculptor Pimpisa Tinpalit.  

    Originally known as ‘Dance of Darkness’, Butoh is often thought to be a dark and grotesque art form. How does the 2019 festival’s theme, Forbidden Laughter, challenge this notion?

    This year the festival focuses on surreal comedy and will ask: “Can the audience laugh at Butoh? Can we portray comedy in Butoh?”. In the Japanese language, the word for laughter, warau 笑う, comes from the verb wareru 割れる, meaning to break, crack or split. The Butoh will draw upon cabaret, bouffon, burlesque, physical theatre and visual art installation.

    What’s next for you in 2019? 

    Yumi: I’m in the midst of creating my new show, DasSHKU TeaParTEA, premiering in 2020. I’m also off to Japan and Europe in the middle of the year to conduct some workshops and performances.

    Takashi: I’m going to visit four different cities in Indonesia­ – Bandung, Batu, Malang and Pacitan – to do networking and exploring future collaborative work opportunities. I’m then planning to practise Zen Buddhism for six weeks at the Zen temple in Fukui, Japan.

    Images by Vikk Shayen.