Kats D. Fukasawa talks about Butoh

Categories: Dance, Theater
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Photo by V. Paul Virtucio
Meet Kats D. Fukasawa, a performance artist, dancer, and Butoh practitioner and teacher. Born in the Japanese town of Rokugo in the Yamanashi prefecture, Fukasawa came to the U.S. in 1989. He moved to Minnesota a couple of years later to attend the University of Minnesota, where he studied aerospace engineering. He has performed with Ragamala, as well as at the Soap Factory's Artery Festival, the Southern Theater, Patrick's Cabaret, and more.

Next week, Fukasawa will begin his Subbutoh workshop, which he's done since 2008. The class, based on the subbody Butoh method developed by Rhizome Lee, a Japanese Butoh practitioner, teaches how to create movements through exploration of the subconscious realm. Fukasawa recently took a moment to chat about Butoh, and how he uses the art form in his own practice. 
Where did Butoh originate? 

Butoh originated in Japan in the late 1950s by guy named Tatsumi Hijikata. At the time in Japan there was a lot of avant-garde arts movement happening. In Japan, modern dance was very different. It came more from a German expressionist dance, combined with Surrealism and Dadaism. This guy was creating movement more like theater, involving all these different artists, painters and writers. Within this vortex, Butoh got pushed out. There was also a guy named Kazuo Ohno. Both styles are very different. From there it spread out to the world. 

What's the reason for the practice of using white body make-up in Butoh? 

Most Butoh traditionally has been performed almost naked. When you see people's bodies naked, you see just a naked body moving. But when it's painted white, it transcends the person and becomes something else. Visually, you go to a different world. Nowadays, newer younger Butoh artists don't paint their bodies at all. It's more of a choice.

How did you get interested in Butoh? 

Well, I was born and raised in Japan in a very rural area, so I had never seen Butoh performed until I came to the United States. I was doing different types of dance before, and I slowly started to get interested. I'd take a few workshops when Butoh artists passed through, but most of my training was in India where I've been studying since 2007.
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Photo by V. Paul Virtucio
What are the essential aspects of Butoh? 

In Butoh, each artist has their own aesthetic in the way they create and the way they teach. The type of Butoh I've been studying is called subbody Butoh, which means subconscious body. In this particular type of Butoh, we practice what we call 'conditioning.' It's sort of like a meditation movement practice. You go into a semi-trance state. Through that we try to research movement within our body. We don't need any dance training. People who take my workshops -- some are dancers, some are actors, some are puppeteers. Anyone can do it. 

There is no judgment. It's about how true can you be to yourself in whatever movement you have within you. You don't need to have any dance training to do a workshop -- in fact it's better if you don't. People who have been trained in dance have a habit of moving. Those with no training move more naturally. When their movements come out it's much more interesting to watch.

What was it that intrigued you?

Before I studied Butoh, I was doing Southern Indian classical dance. I was dancing with Ragamala, and also teaching with them. It's a very structured type of dance, kind of like ballet. I was looking for something different. As I was teaching and doing choreography, I asked myself, 'Why am I trying to put peoples' bodies in this particular shape instead of working with the bodies they already have?' That was my starting point.

It seemed like some of the Butoh movements were something that comes from inside of you -- not just a technique or a shape or movement that someone created for you.

Do you use images in this work?

There are some images. I don't usually use a particular image too much. People can explore their own within their psyche. If the image is too particular, that limits the imagination. 
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Students studying in the Subbody Butoh workshop
Something we use a lot of dark imagery. It's not something we have to do. In Butoh we resonate more with weakness. Modern ballet and western forms of dance resonate more with the strength of a person's body and the beauty of big movement. The idea of beauty is very different in Butoh in that the beauty is of something weak or dying or dead.

How have you used Butoh in your own practice as an artist? 

While we are searching our own body we're encountering our memories,  images, and emotions. So many things come up from your body. I usually use that kind of image or movement or sound or imagery, and put all these things together to create my own piece. As an example, one time I did a project at the Soap Factory's Artery Festival.  Because I'd been to the space -- that space to me -- it's like there are ghosts. Also, timing wise, the festival happened in August, which in Japan is the time of year when there is the return of the spirit. So, that came to me as an inspiration mixed with the space. I gathered people who have been taking my workshop, bringing out the idea of the spirits coming back to the living world, and then going out. From that inspiration we created the whole piece. 

IF YOU GO:

Kats D. Fukasawa's Subbody Butoh Workshop
6-9 p.m. Thursdays from January 5 through March 1
Fallout Urban Art Center Studio
2601 Second Ave. S., Minneapolis
Tuition is $200
See here for more details


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