Butoh – a movement into the self

“It was a completely different feeling to be liberated from the confines of our physical self and reach a communion of our body and mind,” writes ARTOHUS.

When Ekta invited me to photograph her upcoming event – A Butoh Movement-Inspired Workshop – I had little clue of what the experience would be like. Not that I hadn’t photographed movement-based workshops before. While in Kolkata, I had the unique opportunity of documenting a performance art festival called The Idiot’s Tale by The Arshinagar Project. It was organized by a friend, a teacher of the Kalarippayattu dance form. However, I didn’t seem to recall having heard anything about a movement called Butoh. A brief preliminary research from the internet simply roused my interest in the dance form and fuelled my desire to attend the workshop. Having been to one of Ekta’s gatherings before, a wonderful congregation celebrating the birth anniversary of Tagore, I looked forward to the event and replied to her in the affirmative.

The venue for the workshop was a quaint little studio, tucked away in one of the older parts of Bangalore city. The place, Blue Matchbox Studio, is owned by Kehan, an artist, photographer, and furniture designer. It was a cosy place with paintings and photographs embellishing its walls, a bookshelf with an eclectic collection of paperbacks and hardcovers on one end, antique furniture on the other, and a tiny lair in the corner for the artist himself.

The venue – Blue Matchbox Studio.

I met Archana Kumar, the conductor for the workshop, here. Over cups of roasted jackfruit seeds coffee, we discussed Butoh. Archana’s interpretation of Butoh was that the dance form was quite similar to delving into your dark side. She also mentioned how contemporary Butoh was almost an exercise in freedom with each practitioner of the form introducing various types of movements. All in all, Butoh movements were as varied and abundant as the people who practised them. Apart from being a Butoh enthusiast, Archana was also a teacher of both Kathak and Flamenco.

Ekta and Archana.

The Butoh movement-inspired workshop began with a motley group of people, namely an environmentalist, a working professional, a boutique studio owner, and a lady from France. Founded by Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno and rising in popularity in 1959 following the World War II, Butoh is often regarded as an art form known to “resist fixity” and waive away any formal definition. Most of what Butoh is has been defined by the works of its founders. An interesting description of this art form is offered by a website called Contemporary Dance. It refers to Butoh as “the search for a representation of the body that would be free of cultural references and open to all metamorphosis”. A strong emphasis is placed on the stripping of all cultural context and trying to reach a natural or primal state of humanity.

The participants in the Butoh workshop.

This is exactly what I experienced when I observed Archana guiding the group to emanate a consistent, guttural sound from their mouth somewhere in the middle of the workshop. Rising into a crescendo, the vocal ritual seemed strangely rudimentary and a therapeutic departure to our basic instincts. Archana started the workshop with some basic movements that helped loosen up our bodies and remove the obstacle of physicality from them. This was followed by a series of rhythmic movements accompanied by meditative music. Archana then initiated a walking movement whose speed, ranging from rapid to sluggish, was punctuated by a set of numbers. The entire exercise seemed like submerging into the latent realms of our consciousness where we felt every single twitch of our bodies. It was as if time had slowed down into a certain non-existence leaving us in complete realisation of our presence.

The experience was uncannily liberating. In between, there was a rejuvenating session where Archana read a passage while we closed our eyes and lay on the ground, allowing our bodies and senses to take over and respond to what we heard. It was a completely different feeling to be liberated from the confines of our physical self and reach a communion of our body and mind. One of the final movements was when the group was divided into pairs who held each other’s hands in the form of a handshake and moved together, guided purely by one another’s instincts. It was a cathartic experience and embedded our souls with a surreally pure human connection.

The transformation of self in the Butoh workshop.

Often termed as the “Dance of Darkness”, Butoh is considered to be an intensely raw experience. We witnessed that first-hand at this wonderful workshop curated by Ekta. Archana is an extremely intuitive teacher who effortlessly taps into the deeper reserves of human souls. Amidst the hustle of daily life, where each day takes us further away from ourselves, the Butoh workshop was a welcome change that helped us reach out to those lost selves.

ARTOHUS is the founder and travel blogger at Unseen Destinations, a blog on offbeat and responsible travel. He’s also a digital marketer, photographer and occasional poet.


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