Yoko was not the only important Ono from Japan. Oh no, there is another. This gentleman created an entirely new form of dance, “Butoh.” One could even argue that his unique form of dance promotes a great health benefit, as he lived to 103 years of age.
I am speaking of Kazuo Ohno. He was born in 1906 in Japan to a fisherman father and epicurean mom. He had a knack for gym class and ended up going to an athletic college which prepared him for his money-making job, teaching P.E. He also loved to dance. And created the original dance form known as Butoh. It appears to me to combine elements of mime and Kabuki in an avant-garde mix, where the dancing is irrelevant to the story. That and a wicked makeup job that brought tears of envy to my Tammy Baker’d eyes.
In WWII, Kazuo was drafted into the Japanese Army. He rose in the ranks to become a captain and ended up captured by Australians and interned as a POW for a good bit of the war. He was later inspired to create a dance called Jellyfish Dance, presumably from the burials at sea he observed during this time.
At the age of 43, in Tokyo, he performed his first solo works. In the 1950’s he met his long time choreographer, collaborator, Tatsumi Hijikata. His dance “La Argentina Sho,” directed by Hijikata, was dedicated to Antonia Mercé, the famous Spanish dancer. He won Japan’s Dance Critics’ Circle Award for his performance, at the age of 71. Then he took the work on tour all over the world. And he still had his day job, teaching dance and P.E. at Kanto Gakuin High School in Yokohama. He and Hijikata were driven to create a new style of dance, after rejecting traditional dance disciplines.
He created numerous major dance works, starred in two films, appeared in numerous others, had a documentary on himself and wrote three books on Butoh. He founded the Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio in 1949 and built another, the Kamihoshikawa Studio in 1961. His son, Yoshito Ohno, continues his dance workshops and performances of his works.
In 2001 at the age of 95, he lost his ability to walk. But he was still a dancer! He found ways to express his talent and continued to perform moving his hands. Here he is in 2002.
His work is decidedly avante garde, especially in the time he began to create his new form. He did not begin his major work until in his 40’s and then did not find the full bloom of acclaim until his 70’s. And he never stopped dancing, even when he couldn’t walk, and he lived to 106. While you may not appreciate his style, it is clear to see that he was truthful in his expression which told an evocative story. It makes me wonder what the story is in the dancing of Madonna, Britney Spears, Rhianna or Miley Cyrus bouncing their boobies and undulating their crotches in our faces via the camera or concert. Though it doesn’t bother me so much with the male singers. I don’t even notice the singing. I think in all cases their stories begin the same way….”Once upon a ticket…”
Kazuo’s work is an inspiration for expressing whatever we have inside us that is true, be it in the form of singing, painting, baking cupcakes or cleaning cupboards. Like Kazuo, hons, do what you love. And don’t quit your day job.