The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Akaji Maro
Akaji Maro
Born in Nara Prefecture in 1943. After a period of activity in the theater company “Budo no Kai,” he established the underground theater group “Jokyo Gekijo” with Juro Kara in 1964 and was active as a demonish actor while studying under the butoh pioneer Tatsumi Hijikata. In 1972 Maro established Dairakudakan in pursuit of a new type of fusion between theater and butoh. Since then he has established a style of works that take a positive view of manifestations of the body and emotions that step outside the norms of society as being part of human nature and revives them on stage as specters. These works are staged with spectacle and humor to counterbalance their inherent melancholy in a style that Maro calls Temputenshiki. He has also continued activities as an actor, staring in numerous movies. Since his overseas debut at the American Dance Festival in 1982, Maro has continued to give numerous overseas performances.
Kaiin no Uma;The Sea-Dappled Horse
Kaiin no Uma;The Sea-Dappled Horse
Photo: Hiroto Yamazaki

This work premiered in 1982. It is composed of highlight scenes from the monthly series of performances titled Juni no Hikari presented in 1980 at the Toyotamagaran studio (closed 1985). Staged as a spectacle work in which Maro encounters a specter while wandering in search of a phantom horse, this is one of Dairakudakan’s representative works offering a tour de force of the company’s unique art.

Launched in May of 2001, the Kochuten series presents works in which all the decisions involved in the choreography, direction and staging are made by a single butoh artist of the company, with the one requirement that each work contain a solo part performed by the choreographer him/herself. As of June 2005, some 20 works have been presented by Dairakudakan artists including Jun Wakabayashi Takuya Muramatsu, Kumotaro Mukai, Masatora Ishikawa, Ikkou Tamura, Reiko Yaegashi, Eiko Kanesawa, Yuko Kobayashi and Atsuko Imai. Among these, six works have been performed overseas to high acclaim.
an overview
Artist Interview Artist Interview
Maro Akaji's representative butoh work Kaiin no Uma performance in South KoreaHe talks about butoh today  
The butoh company Dairakudakan was formed in 1972 with Akaji Maro as its central figure and went on to become one of Japan’s representative companies in the genre. Among the original members are some of the most important names in the world of butoh who later went on to form their own companies. The list includes Ushio Amagatsu (now leader of Sankaijuku), Isamu Ohsuka (leader of Byakko-sha, now disbanded), Bishop Yamada (leader of Hoppo Butoh Ha, now disbanded), Ko Murobushi (leader of Sebi, now disbanded) and Tetsuro Tamura (leader of Dance Love Machine, now disbanded). So numerous were the companies born from this original group that the expression “one dancer, one company” was coined to describe the Dairakudakan group.
Over four decades have passed since Tatsumi Hijikata launched a new genre of Japanese expressionist dance (later to be named Ankoku Butoh, or Dance of Darkness) with the work Kinjiki in 1959. This unique Japanese dance form characterized by the whitewashed bodies, open-legged stance, shaved heads and fragmented motion came to be known in the international performing arts world by the Japanese name butoh. But, with the disbanding of many of the early companies and the drift of young dancers toward the new expressive possibilities of contemporary dance, the butoh world has undergone changes.
Still, through all these changes, Akaji Maro’s Dairakudakan continues to perform at the forefront on the dance scene with close to 40 members over 30 years after the company’s founding. And, since 2001 the company has been presenting a series of productions in which individual younger members do everything from the choreography to the direction and decision-making concerning the stage art and music. Within this program we sense the emergence of a new age for the art of butoh.
We spoke to Akaji Maro about butoh on the eve of the first major performance in South Korea of one of his representative works, Kaiin no Uma, at the large-scale dance festival “Korea-Japan Friendship in Dance 2005” to be held in Seoul from June 25 to July 14.

(Interviewer: Jun-ichi Konuma)

Since 2001, Dairakudakan has been presenting a series of studio performances of works done completely by your younger members called the “Kochuten” series. What are your thoughts about nurturing young artists?
I don’t think too much about it (laughs). But, while I am doing the group’s choreography, I know these younger members must get ideas of their own and those ideas must accumulate within them. So, I say to them, why don’t you try doing a piece? Then I find out that they aren’t just reading manga all the time like I thought they were. What they do may be different from my work, but that will often make it fresh and interesting to me. But, don’t forget that the people who are doing works for the Kochuten series are members who have already been performing with us for five or ten years.

In what ways is the choreography different from yours?
Although there are some elements of our stage style that are maintained, I leave the contents of the works completely up to them. Each person that does one of these stages is in charge of everything from the choreography to the stage art, lighting and music. To carry out that kind of creative task is a real test of one’s sense as an artist. And they know that it doesn’t make me happy when they do something that is just a repetition of my style (laughs), so I’m sure they feel a lot of pressure.
It is very revealing for me to see the kinds of things they are thinking about as they come out in these works. Having the works as a subject of focus also makes it possible for me to have meaningful discussions with these young people in their 20s and 30s [despite the age gap]. My choreography imposes certain demands on them, but they are choreographing their own works with a joyous sense and I wonder how that is being distilled within them. So it is very int eresting for me to find answers in their works.
I make a point not to watch while they are in the practice stage of their works in order to make certain that they will work the pieces up by themselves. Then when it comes to the point about one week before the performance I will point out a few things that should be changed. But I can’t just impose my own sensibilities and say “This is interesting” or “This part is boring” or “Take this part out!” We have to work these things out with a dilemma.

But, if they stray too far from your established style it won’t be Dairakudakan anymore. So where does the borderline lie in that sense?
That’s a difficult question (laughs). You could say that I have my own range of tolerance, and because there is a lot of randomness or haphazardness to what I do, it doesn’t really surprise me. I could talk about the meaning of “haphazard” if you’d like.

Is “haphazard” something that can be explained?
It can, because haphazardness is my basic methodology. For example, tossing a matchstick one day and having it happen to land standing up on its end and being able to enjoy that in terms of possibility percentage. That is my haphazard. Haphazardness is something that we come to see based on the degree to which our minds and bodies (although this is an expression that takes on a different meaning) can grasp it. You can come to see it so often that you have to say “You’ve got to be joking!” (laughs). But even if you are joking, it is still amazing. And when you come to see these things, it can be fascinating.

If Dairakudakan has something that you could call its own style or literary style or method that you all share, and then Kazuo Ohno and Sankaijuku have their own style, then what is butoh?
You come to the point where you realize that “butoh is not to be found within butoh.” Although it contains a degree of uncertainty, I have my own style that is different from Sankaijuku and different from Akira Kasai. Although we may have some things in common with Sankaijuku, the individual aspects are different, and in fact “style” in this sense is only something that gets in the way, and we all want to reach the point where we can transcend style. But every time we take a step out in a new direction it is only to return by some roundabout route. So we are always standing at a crossroads, so to speak. Still, it is not a matter of trying to escape from that situation, but rather to encompass the whole and move forward while growing and expanding in an esoteric sort of way. I think that in butoh there is that kind of question of commanding time and place, which in the end means how to be in command of yourself. Still, I would not say that that constitutes a definition of butoh. So it is a difficult question.

Still, people always try to see something definitive in butoh.
That involves the capacity for restoration, the ability to reenact, doesn’t it. There is some element of self-conceit involved here, be it in words or in body movement, the same sensibilities are in command. So what is it? If you ask that, I don’t have an answer (laughs).
If you talk about the spirit and power in words or the strength of sources of origin it begins to sound like the realm of ethnology. Well, I think that aspect is involved to some degree, but I also think that you can see a level where the way you hold yourself or the stance you take can do away with all those questions. I think that that kind of presence is also a viable element.

Is that something that holds true not only in Japan but in New York and Seoul as well?
Yes. You can say that. When you look at the works coming out of other countries or read foreign literature, you understand it, don’t you? You may miss some of the details or nuance, but you know if the person is surprised and you feel the sadness when they cry; we all understand the emotions and passions. Of course this is all based on the premise that people have feelings, although sometimes we see people who don’t seem to (laughs).
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