The research motif
The first time I saw Japanese Butoh performance was in 1994. It was "Unetsu"（卵熱） of "Sankai Juku"（山海塾） performed at the National Theatre, Taipei. I was deeply shocked and touched. It was hard to express the emotion I experienced, but I knew there must be a special philosophy and aesthetics behind Butoh（舞踏）. After that, I saw many Butoh performances, among them, the works by Kazuo Ohno（大野一雄）and his son Yoshito Ohno（大野慶人）, Eiko & Koma（永子與高麗）, "Dairakudakan"大駱駝艦, "Arutai Kobuzoku"（阿爾泰古舞族）. In the summer of 2005, I participated in Semimaru Workshop of Sankai Juku in Japan. Then in the spring of 2006, I attended "Tomoe Shizune and Hakutobo"（白桃房） Workshop in Taiwan.
Among many Butoh artists, there is a special Butoh dancer- choreographer named Hata-Kanoko（秦Kanoko） who has special experience with Taiwan. In 1998, she was invited to the Philippines to perform in the “Cry of Asia Festival.” In the Philippines, she saw suffering life of people who lived in Smokey Mountain. Besides, she met and made friends with a Taiwan epic-theatre worker Mr. CHUNG Chiao（鍾喬）. Mr. Chung Chiao is a poet and the artistic director of the “Assignment Theatre”（差事劇團） in Taiwan. With the help from Mr. Chung, Hata-Kanoko came to Taiwan and has performed and organized Butoh workshops since 1998. In 2002, Hata Kanoko and her family lived in Shen-keng（深坑）, Taipei County. They become regular visitors of Taiwan. Hata-Kanoko keeps her performances as well as Butoh workshop in Taiwan. In 2005, Hata-Kanoko established the first Butoh company in Taiwan――“Huang Tieh Nan Tien”（黃蝶南天）, which means “The Yellow Butterfly Flying to the South”. She then choreographed her first work for the company――''Shun Chien Chih Wong''（King of the Moment，瞬間之王）. Hata- Kanoko lives in Taiwan as their second home and dances Butoh in Taiwan in order to search for the speciality inside of Taiwanese people’s body.
In 2006, Hata-Kanoko choreographed her latest work “Tieh Jan Chih Mei”（Beauty of Nature，天然之美）and performed in “Losheng Sanatorium”（樂生療養院） since September 21 to 24. Losheng is a kind of hospital and community to isolate leprosy patients since the Japanese colonization era until this century. As a 4th generation Butoh dancer who admires Butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata（土方巽） , Hata -Kanoko’s Butoh is based on Hijikata’s enlightment and she keeps her long association with Hijikata’s aesthetics. "Beauty of Nature" was inspired by her early study and continuous observation of Hijikata’s work. Besides, she insisted to have "Beauty of Nature" performed in Losheng in order to protest against Losheng’s dismantling by Taiwan government.
My research attempts to find the possibility of Butoh in Taiwan. I’ll explore anti-modernity and anti-westernized tendency and the representation of female body experience instead of feminism in the creations of Hata-Kanoko, a mother of three little girls.
Hata Kanoko, Japanese Butoh and Taiwan
Hata-Kanoko was born in the northern top of Japan in 1964. Her hometown is very close to Tatsumi Hijikata’s and Kazuo Ohno’s hometowns. Before 1984, she attended a 2-year Women’s Senior College and majored in insurance. From 1984 to 1988, she became an office lady working as a secretary. Besides, she worked in a mini movie theatre to play movies for audience. In 1984, she saw a solo performance of Min Tanaka （田中泯）. That time, Min Tanaka called his dance “hyper-dance” instead of Butoh. In this performance, Min Tanaka was almost naked. He provoked his audience by pouring Japanese sake wine on them. Hata-Kanoko was very moved by the performance of Min Tanaka. This was her first time to see live Butoh performance.
In 1987, Hata Kanoko started her Butoh study in “Arutai Kobuzoku Butoh Company”. Her teacher’s teacher was Hijikata’s student. Hata-Kanoko quitted her job as an office lady in 1988. From then on, Hata-Kanoko lives her life as a professional Butoh dancer. Sometimes, she danced golden powder show in night club to make money.
In 1998, Hata-Kanoko was invited by “Asia Council for People’s Culture” in the Philippines to perform in the “Cry of Asia Festival”. In the Philippines, she saw very difficult life of people who lived in Smokey Mountain. Smokey Mountain is an area for storing trash. Crowded trash produces smoke. That’s why it is called “Smokey Mountain”. Some poor Philippines live in Smoky Mountain and earn very little money by picking up and selling useful trash such as recycled cans. Life is very hard for those people. It’s almost like living in hell. But in Smokey Mountain, she said, “I saw Butoh on the street. Because the existence of those Philippines is the shape of Butoh. They always struggle for life. Their life is a reality full of pain. Even children who beg for money on the street are victims of Capitalism. To me, Butoh is the shape of life.”
In this festival, Hata Kanoko met Mr. Chung Chiao, the founder and director of the “Assignment Theatre” in Taiwan. Mr. Chung is a leftist intellectual. Since Hata Kanoko’s social movement ideas are very similar to Chung Chiao’s, Chung invited Hata to come to his homeland Taiwan for Hata’s first tour in 1998.
Before the end of World War Two, Taiwan was occupied and colonized by Japan for 50 years. Taiwan and Japan both belong to Buddhist and Confucian cultural circle. Because of these historical and cultural relationships, Hata-Kanoko feels very close to Taiwan people. Taiwanese friends who work in alternative theatre are also fond of her very much because she is a woman full of energy and sympathy. From 1998, Hata-Kanoko came to Taiwan to perform and conduct Butoh workshops several times. Hata-Kanoko and her family have lived in Shen-keng, Taipei County since 2002. She learned to speak Chinese language and became a regular visitor and observer of Taiwan.
In January 2005, Hata-Kanoko established the first Butoh company in Taiwan――“Huang Dieh Nan Tien” which means “The Yellow Butterfly Flying to the South”. She regards herself as a yellow butterfly who makes her decision to cross the strait to fly to the south, from Japan to Taiwan. In her opinion, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and China surround and share the same China Sea. The China Sea is the complicated connection between Taiwan, Japan, Korea and China.
In the first work of "Huang Tieh Nan Tien Butoh Company"――"Shun Chien Chih Wong"（King of the Moment） , Hata-Kanoko cooperated with a blind and fat dancer Lee Pei-chi（李佩綺）. To Hata-Kanoko, Miss Lee is a symbol of people who live on the margin of the society. No matter how hard she works and struggles, she will never enter a higher social level. Miss Lee’s body is a “weapon” against Capitalism in "Shun Chien Chih Wong". Her body belongs to the public. She is the existence which is hidden behind the society.
Hata Kanoko’s Latest Work
“Tieh Jan Chih Mei”（Beauty of Nature）
In 2006, from September 21 to 24, Hata-Kanoko choreographed her latest work "Tieh Jan Chih Mei" （Beauty of Nature）for old grandpas and grandmas who are isolated in Losheng Leprosy Sanatorium by the colonial Japanese and later Taiwanese governments. Before 1960’s, leprosy was misunderstood as terrible infectious disease. Those who got leprosy were forced by government into segregation in rest home. This kind of rest home is named “Ai-sheng Yuan”（愛生院） in Japan. In Taiwan, it’s called “Losheng Yuan” （樂生院）since Japanese colonization era. Leprosy patients had to keep their distance far away from their family, friends and people until their death. At the end of the 20th century, research on medical science proved that leprosy is not infectious disease. Even close contact between lovers will not endanger the healthy partner. Those patients were cheated by their government. They spent their whole live in vain in Losheng. Some social movement and student movement groups showed up to support old grandpas and grandmas in Losheng. They asked for apology and reparation from both Japanese and Taiwanese governments. Unfortunately, Taipei County government sold the land of Losheng Leprosy Rest Home to the Taipei Metro company in 2002. Hence, the government forced those old grandpas and grandmas to move away. Some of them agreed to leave, but some refused. Because of the wrong policy of the government, their human rights were sacrificed. What they need is only dignity. Therefore, many sociology scholars, students, artists and people retort and argue against the government to prevent Losheng from being moved away. This is not a problem of how many leprosy grandpas and grandmas who want to stay in Losheng. This is a problem of essential meaning. Our nation and government owe these grandpas and grandmas who spend their life without humanism and humanity in vain inside of Losheng.
Hata-Kanoko joined this movement by means of her work "Beauty of Nature". Actually, "Beauty of Nature" is the name of a Japanese song. This song is the first song introduced from the west to Japan. In the end of 19th century, a military officer brought this song from Holland to the Japanese Army. Then it was transformed into a Japanese song played by military bands. As some of the military bands were dismissed, some musicians joined circus to perform for ordinary people. It was a process of sadness. The tune of this song is also filled with sadness. Hata-Kanoko heard the song "Beauty of Nature" in her childhood. The lyric of this song is very simple. Singer admired songs of birds, voice of rivers and beauty of nature with simple vocabularies. However, every time Hata-Kanoko heard this song, she felt sad because its tune is full of sorrow. In 2006, Hata-Kanoko combined the sorrowful images left in her heart by this song, the progression from the army to common folks of this song as well as the event of Losheng. She choreographed her dance work "Beauty of Nature" to fight for anti-modernity concept of Butoh. She didn’t apply for any grants from the government, organization or business enterprise sponsors. She paid for every cent of the production herself. Everyone worked with Hata-Kanoko also received no salary. Even costume designer, sitar musician, lighingt designer and stage technician from Japan bought their own airplane tickets themselves. Everybody shared with the same ideology and friendship.
In the very beginning of "Beauty of Nature", three female dancers are hanging high above the stage under very dark light. They are almost naked and white color spreads on their body. A few streaks of silkworm thread are placed on their bodies. They look like silkworms wanting to get out of their cocoons. Voice of water drops falling on metal cans and sound of insects continue. The dancers move slowly. Gradually, they stretch their bodies upside down. The “upside-down” body symbolizes the history which is reversed by the hegemony of the government. And then, the blind girl appears. She winds a music box. However, the music sounds broken. To me, it is a metaphor of broken history and forgotten memory. The blind dancer exits. Three dancers hang above and move up and down, up and down. Their motion looks like turning toy horses in merry-go-round in an amusement park for children. The background music as well as sound from the blind dancer’s music box is the song "Beauty of Nature".
Light turns dark. Live sitar music comes. Three dancers lie down on the stage. They are like babies unborn in mothers’ wombs. But they are also dead people who hope to come to next life and be born again. When they shake their bodies slowly, some Losheng old grand-pas and grand-mas say it reminds them of their leprosy disease. They used to be seized by spasms or cramps. In the end of this section, dancers stand upside down to represent the world of the dead. Because in a script of kabuki, the world of dead people is described as being upside down.
Light fades out. Solo performance of Sitar musician starts. Light fades in. Dancers gradually show up from the back of a mirror to Japanese ritual music. They make ugly and absurd faces. The mirror is very vague because it is a door to connect the lived and the dead.
And then it’s Hata-Kanoko’s solo dance. The stage opens and a pool with water appers. On the first day leprosy patients entered Losheng, everyone was put in the shower of antiseptic solution and then put on clothes Losheng prepared for them as uniforms. It meant they would never go out of Losheng again.
Blind dancer becomes a golden fish. She is playing and swimming in the water. The stage rotates to reveal a back stage, where a show girl dances her sexy dance. However, her dance makes audience feel sad because she represents life of girls in the underworld of our society those who use their bodies to make money.
With the music "My Sweet Home", four men in black carry a table and Hata-Kanoko lies on the table as the dead. They pass the audience and go to the stage. Hata-Kanoko stays on the stage alone. She wakes up, takes off her Losheng uniform, shows her bikini and dances with fire. Just like dead leprosy patients’ bodies burnt in fire. Finally, she became Buddha.
The blind dancer, as the leader of the spirits of dead children, carries toys and dead babies past the stage. Children’s toy windmills turn rapidly, but the stage is empty because all children have disappeared.
The next section also showed up in Hijikata’s work "Story of Disease"（疱瘡譚） before. It is about a story of prostitutes. They carry their bags in front of kimonos and this is opposite to ordinary girls.
After sitar solo, Hata-Kanoko uses a legend to tell the story of Losheng. A man unknowingly married a fox. Their marriage was happy and the wife gave birth to a baby boy. Finally, the fox had to go back to her forest. She cried and told her son, “If you miss me, please come to my forest near Osaka.” Some grand-mas in Losheng were forced to leave their children in the similar situation. Hata-Kanoko danced her long solo of fox dance. The sitar music expresses her feeling. Finally, she wrote on the mirror, “If you miss me, please come to my forest near Losheng” .
"Beauty of Nature" is a successful writing said to be feminine （écriture féminine）. Hata-Kanoko never admits she is a feminist but her work echoes the approach of radical feminism. She knows the value of her own work. She insists on left-wing cultural resistance by means of her Butoh.
Ranajit Guha, the Indian post-colonialist scholar defined “subaltern studies” as “listening to the small voice of history”. Dr. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak also asked, “Can Subaltern Speak? Suffering of Losheng’s old grandpas and grandmas can not be forgotten. Hata-Kanoko and her work "Beauty of Nature" expressed the sublimation of misery.
Maro Akaji, the founder and artistic director of Dairakudakan used to said, “Butoh draws its energy from the earth. It comes out of specific Japanese culture, and out of a Japanese avant-garde.” Unlike some later Butoh generations, Hata-Kanoko still keeps her connection with Hijikata. She insists on the marginality of Butoh. She keeps Butoh’s alternative character and anti-modernity purpose. On the other hand, she expresses femininity instead of feminism in her work. Hata-Kanoko’s art is rooted in her sympathy to human beings.
As Japanese obsessional artist Kudo Tetsumi said, “For me, art is to doubt everything completely, to doubt God, to doubt myself, and to doubt the world. The accumulation of these doubts became my art. To doubt to the extreme……that is my starting point.” Hata-Kanoko also used to tell me, “I dance Butoh to resist the world.” I was deeply touched by this sentence as well as Hata-Kanoko’s works. For me, Hata-Kanoko’s "Beauty of Nature" is a dark aura which reflects historical memory.
Hata-Kanoko laid down the possibility of development of Butoh in Taiwan by means of avant-garde theatre activities collaborated with Taiwanese artists in different fields. I left this topic to explorers in the future.
Many thanks to Hata-Kanoko, friends of Taiwan Haibizi tent theatre, Prof. Sal Murgiyanto, Prof. LIN Ya-tin, Prof. CHEN Ya-ping and my parents.
@2009, Alice Yi-chun CHEN