20 years of telling stories not told elsewhere: Last Call at the Butoh Foundry — Asbestos Kan Bids Adieu to the Hijikata Studio; Kasai Divine as “Lovely Jean Paul”

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2003, 2018 Maura Nguyen Donohue

TOKYO — Sunday, January 19’s show from Asbestos Kan, the company started by Butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata, marked the final public performance at the historic Tatsumi Hijikata Memorial Asbestos Dance Studio. Hijikata is considered the creator of Butoh. However, he hadn’t specifically set out to make “Butoh,” per se, when he premiered “Kinjiki (Forbidden Colors)” in 1959. The controversial work was based on Yukio Mishima’s novel of the same name and premiered during a Japan Dance Association showcase for new choreographers. It has since been cited as the first public showing of the performance movement that Hijikata later named Ankoku Butoh, Dance of Darkness. Four decades later, Hijikata’s Ankoku Butoh has become an internationally recognizable form. Tragically, two days after the performance and on the 17th anniversary of Hijikata’s death, the Tokyo District Court auctioned off the birthplace of Japan’s most influential contemporary performance form.

Close to 75 people crammed into the unassuming basement studio (the back of a van parked outside serves as box office and coat check), slowly filling it until the only apparent performance space consisted of a small spot of about 10 square feet in the corner. Agoraphobic response to the crush of the crowd shifted into a growing claustrophobic panic that I was stuck, sitting with my knees pulled up to my chest, without possibility of escape. But these fears were quickly dispelled as a video of abstract, digital bubbles was projected on the back wall, sparse chanting audio drifted through the room, and a kimono-clad woman entered the space. She screamed, the sound of pounding taiko drums followed and “Edo Mandalam” directed by Hironobu Oikawa, began….

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