The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
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Artist Interview
Maro Akaji's representative butoh work Kaiin no Uma performance in South KoreaHe talks about butoh today
Noguchi Gymnastics Method
(Noguchi Taisoh)

The Noguchi Gymnastics Method is a set of exercises developed by Michizo Noguchi in the 1960s in search of a system of physical improvement and revitalization. Based on a unique concept of the human body as a mass of fluids inside living bag of skin within which the bone structure and organs are suspended, the Noguchi gymnastics have long been considered a peripheral method by the rest of the gymnastics world but have nonetheless had a major influence in the theater, art and music worlds around the globe.
Maro Akaji
Maro Akaji
Maro Akaji
Can we assume that it is these emotions and passions that lie at the core Akaji Maro the artist?
That is true to a large degree. For example, I think the expression on a person’s face in a jolting moment of surprise is the same any place in the world. And then, the questions of what you think about that sadness, what you think about that tragedy will come back to you.
Well, I can become quite nihilistic, but there may be people who will want to say “Let’s cry together” or “Let’s march together for world peace.”
This is an area where the question of the dancer’s stance arises again, and the response may come back, “Hey, I’m not trying to save the world!” (laughs).
If you wanted to describe our stance and make it sound good, you might say that we are a kind of living sacrifice. The people of butoh are not concerned with questions of art but with showing the existence of the sacrificial body. And it is my personal habit that we go in the direction of not saying anything about that.

I see. So, if there are these emotions and passions the body has to be able to connect to them well. Is the Noguchi Gymnastics Method a way of learning to make that connection?
The Noguchi Gymnastics Method sees the body as a type of fluid entity and a primal life form is a methodology to some extent, and at our Dairakudakan retreats we start out by explaining what the Noguchi Gymnastics Method is and having the people do them. But I feel that as a method it is not sufficient by itself. The Noguchi method is a kind of idealistic theory of the body, but there remains a question of how you toss foreign elements into it.
For example, we breathe in exhaust gas or cigarette smoke, so we are naturally taking in these terrible substances. We can’t escape from the fact that we are taking in a lot of different things like that.
When we are talking like this, you can get the feeling that we might come up with some vague overall image of what butoh is. But, from the beginning there has never been much of a definition of what butoh is. For example you bring in something foreign and as you are adding some of its rites and rituals you suddenly come up with a mix that looks like a new form. And then you sometimes get the feeling that you want to incorporate that new mix in your own form. Since we are working with our bodies, I think that kind of desire, or greed, comes into it.

In terms of these kinds of feelings or ideas, do you think the butoh of today has changed much compared to when it was starting out in the 1950s and 60s?
When you are working with the body there will always be some degree of overlap between the past and the present.

Does that mean that, shall we say within the limits of the body, there is something continuous that is not influenced by the times?
That’s right. If you are talking about something that is built on a certain type of consciousness, I think you can define something as butoh. Still, the young dancers today may say that limits of the body don’t affect them, because they feel strong and full of life. There is that side too (laughs).

Why did it happen that dancers went out and discovered this kind of [butoh] body in the 50s and 60s?
I think it was something that had to come out. Before that there were probably many of the different element existing unconsciously but suddenly there came a time when the situation cause it to be forgotten and people said, “Something is wrong.” That happened to be the 60s. I don’t know if we really want to talk about that, though (laughs).

It would be too much of a simplification to use the cliché expression “Japan’s high economic growth rate period” (laughs).
That, I believe, is one of the elements. Everyone had been working so hard after the War, and I think there was some fatigue built up. Stopping to catch their breath, some people finally said “No” or “Stop and look back over your shoulder.” Until then it you would be considered a traitor to the country if you looked back (laughs). With regard to this, however, I think Hijikata and Ohno felt it more intensely than we did. I think they had a strong conviction that they would not become part of the system, that they wouldn’t belong to any group or trust anything that was part of the establishment.
Ohno was more conscious and logical in his approach, I think, while Hijikata was more unconscious, saying, “I can’t be part of your system” and feeling the strongest sense of not belonging. He had a kind of womanly type “I don’t like what I don’t like” side to him, because he would often say, “This is very strong.” When a woman says “I don’t like it because I don’t like it” no amount of explanation is going to change her mind. There is simply no room to get a foot in the door (laughs).
 
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