About Kazuo Ohno – Reliving the Butoh Diva’s Masterpieces


Takao Kawaguchi, Kazuo Ohno, butoh, performance art, Japan Society, Japan, NYC, Tatsumi Hijikata, dance, tribute
Takao Kawaguchi. Photo credit: Maria Baoli.

About Kazuo Ohno – Reliving the Butoh Diva’s Masterpieces

Friday, September 16 and Saturday, September 17 at 7:30 p.m.

Japan Society – 333 East 47th Street (between First and Second Avenues)

Admission: $30/$25 Japan Society members

Japan Society presents the North American premiere of About Kazuo Ohno – Reliving the Butoh Diva’s Masterpieces, conceived, created, and performed by Takao Kawaguchi, who traces and reconstructs each movement of the three legendary pieces of the late butoh co-founder and master Kazuo Ohno. In this endeavor, Kawaguchi both delves into and defies expectations of butoh performance, bringing fresh expression to Ohno’s seminal works. This program, launching the Society’s 2016-2017 Performing Arts Season and arriving just weeks before what would have been Kazuo Ohno’s 110th birthday, offers reinterpretations of butoh by non-butoh-specific artists in the 21st century. The evening also includes a short piece by New York’s Big Dance Theater, Resplendent Shimmering Topaz Waterfall, which evolved from notes capturing another butoh legend and co-founder Tatsumi Hijikata’s choreography.

About Kazuo Ohno reconstructs Ohno’s timeless masterpieces with inimitable craft and meticulous attention to detail. Drawn to Ohno’s work as a fluid exploration between genderless body and soul, Takao Kawaguchi, one of Japan’s most sought-after dancers and former member of the company Dumb Type, challenged himself to copy literally the dances of late butoh master from archival recordings, channeling several of his renowned works including Admiring La Argentina (1977), My Mother (1981), and Dead Sea, Ghost and Wienerwaltz (1985).

The evening begins in Japan Society’s lobby with the first component of About Kazuo Ohno, in which Kawaguchi performs an improvisational passage inspired by the Chiaki Nagano film Portrait of Mr. O. As the program continues, the audience moves into Japan Society’s auditorium for Big Dance Theater’s Resplendent Shimmering Topaz Waterfall. The conclusion of About Kazuo Ohno features Takao Kawaguchi’s substantive solo inspired by Ohno’s masterpieces.

These performances at Japan Society, representing the North American premiere of About Kazuo Ohno, launch a Japan Society-produced seven-city tour, which includes performances at The Hudson Opera House/Second Ward Foundation, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, University of Iowa Department of Dance, UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Bowker Auditorium, REDCAT – Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, and The Andy Warhol Museum.

Coinciding with this performance, to offer further context and exploration, an exhibition of materials from the Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio in Yokohama, Japan, including posters, programs, video, costumes, photos and other articles, will be displayed in Japan Society’s lobby from September 16 through 18. This exhibit is free and open to the public during Japan Society Box Office hours.

Takao Kawaguchi, Kazuo Ohno, butoh, performance art, Japan Society, Japan, NYC, Tatsumi Hijikata, dance, tribute
Takao Kawaguchi. Photo Credit: bozzo

In reflecting on this artistic pursuit, Takao Kawaguchi offers, “Usually characterized as largely improvisational, Ohno’s dance is unique not only for his age but also for the distinctive features of his body and movements which are essential to his dance. An attempt to copy his dance as it is, no more no less, means nothing but to suspend whatever interpretation the copier may have as well as his own beliefs, and to project himself onto the forms and shapes of the old dancer as exactly as possible. The closer it gets, however, the clearer the gap becomes, minimum but inevitable no matter how hard he tries to diminish it. The paradox here is that this very gap, nonetheless, highlights the very distinct characteristics of the copier. Copy is original.”

“Having seen firsthand performances by Kazuo Ohno in the ‘80s and ‘90s, including his last overseas performance at our venue in December 1999, I’m struck by how Kawaguchi’s piece not only evokes the original, but becomes something entirely new – delivering sensual mementos to the eyes of those who have witnessed Ohno’s dances,” says Yoko Shioya, Japan Society Artistic Director. “Though we see only one performer on stage, audiences may be haunted by a feeling that this performance is a duet – Kawaguchi dancing with Ohno.”

From 2008 until present, Kawaguchi has been working on his biographical solo, site-specific docudrama performance series called a perfect life. Though he never witnessed Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno perform when they were alive, Kawaguchi has looked into the archives to work on The Ailing Dance Mistress, two solos inspired by the texts of Tatsumi Hijikata, and About Kazuo Ohno – Reliving the Butoh Diva’s Masterpieces, which has toured Asia and Europe. His latest creation, Touch of the Other, a performance based on the sociological research by Laud Humphreys on men having sex with men in public toilets in the ‘60s, was presented at ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives and REDCAT Theater (Los Angeles) before going to Tokyo in January 2016. Kawaguchi served as director of the Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival from 1996 – 1999.

Related Events

  • Film Screening: Portrait of Mr. O. & two short films
    Sunday, September 18 at 1:00 p.m.
    Tickets: $13/$10 Japan Society members.
    This screening will include Chiaki Nagano’s Portrait of Mr. O., which features Ohno journeying through and exploring his local neighborhood, and which served as a source of inspiration for Takao Kawaguchi’s About Kazuo Ohno. Also to be screened are the two short films, Kazuo Ohno by Daniel Schmid and Three Films for Kazuo Ohno’s La Argentina by internationally known visual artist Yasumasa Morimura.
  • Workshop: Body Sculpting Workshop with Takao Kawaguchi
    Sunday, September 18, from 3:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m.
    Tickets: $35/$30 Japan Society members
    Takao Kawaguchi guides participants through his creative process for About Kazuo Ohno. After a discussion about Kazuo Ohno and viewing of archival footage, participants will sketch their images and create movements based on what they experienced. Maximum 20 participants; participants are asked to bring their own video streaming device (phone, tablet, personal computer).

Combo ticket: Purchase tickets to both the workshop and the film screening and save $10.

For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit Japan Society’s website.