““I never watched Kazuo Ohno dance on stage, not while he was alive. But now I see him in photographs and videos. It’s always very beautiful, and though I cannot explain it well, I feel a certain affinity for the twists and undulations of his movements. It even feels sensual. Maybe I have a similar quality within me?”
Taking this question as his point of departure, Takao Kawaguchi (1962) began, in 2013, to explore the possibilities of copying the movements of the acclaimed choreographer Kazuo Ohno (1906–2010) as a way to access the intrinsic and seemingly non-transferable qualities of this figure, central not only in Japanese post-war dance but also the universal history of the discipline in the twentieth century. Ohno is regarded, together with Tatsumi Hijikata, whom he met at the end of the 1950s, as a pioneer of butoh dance, initially called “Ankoku Butoh”, a new, revolutionary language underpinned by spasmodic movements arising from the sub-conscious.
In About Kazuo Ohno Takao Kawaguchi recovers some of the master’s pieces through a methodology which, in some respects, contrasts with their key components; Kawaguchi’s approach does not set out from butoh’s improvisational technique, as one would expect, but literally copies Ohno’s movements — recorded on film and in photographic documents — thus drawing on the archives of the dancer’s first performances of works like Admiring La Argentina (1977), My Mother (1981) and Dead Sea, Ghost, Wienerwaltz (1985), created with Hijikata during a fervent period of collaboration that ended with Hijikata’s death in 1986.
In a sense, About Kazuo Ohno is a duality between Kawaguchi’s faithful replica and the illusory image of Kazuo Ohno, turned by history into an icon and representation of himself. Moreover, Ohno’s dances reprised by Kawaguchi are performed as a duo, for it was Hijikata who held and animated Ohno’s body.
The piece is thought-provoking as much for the spectator who is familiar with Kazuo Ohno’s dance work as the spectator who is not. The former will relive the master’s movements through Kawaguchi; the latter will call upon their imagination to follow the scene. The encounter between the memory of a past figure and the manifestation of his movement in the present prompts a myriad of images, where that which does not exist constantly appears while what we see endlessly vanishes. It is in these contradictions of time where the interest of this piece rests: we feel not so much that we are before a past that returns but before a present which unfolds in broken layers, without the possibility of being capturing in a still image.
The presentation of About Kazuo Ohno in the Museo Reina Sofía, organised in collaboration with Teatros del Canal in Madrid, forms the centrepiece of other related activities: a public conversation with Takao Kawaguchi, sponsored by Fundación Japón, in the Dance Hall of Madrid’s Universidad Carlos III (27 September at 7pm); a workshop by the choreographer in the Canal Dance Centre, organised inside the framework of a collaboration between Museo Reina Sofía and Teatros del Canal (11 October); and the exhibition A Movement that Refuses to Be Pinned Down: Kazuo Ohno and La Argentina, from 10 October 2018 to 15 February 2019) in Space D of the Museo Reina Sofía Library and the Museo’s Documentation Centre. The show will assemble different materials such as photographs, drawings and films to take us on an affective journey, with the frame of reference a photograph of a specific scene from the celebrated solo Admiring La Argentina, created in 1977 by Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno in an attempt to recover the movements of the Spanish artist Antonia Mercé y Luque, La Argentina (1890–1936).
Takao Kawaguchi (1962) is a choreographer, performer and artist. After working for the dance company ATA DANCE, with Atsuko Yoshifuku, he became a member of the collective Dumb Type between 1996 and 2008, as well as collaborating with visual artists, working with light, sound and video. Since 2008 he has developed his solo series of site-specific performances under the general title A perfect life until today, which includes From Okinawa to Tokyo, presented at the 2013 Yebisu International Festival for Art and Alternative Visions, in the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum. Most recently he has created butoh dance pieces like The Ailing Dance Mistress (2012), based on the writings of Tatsumi Hijikata, and About Kazuo Ohno-Reliving the Butoh Divaʼs Masterpieces (2013).
Kawaguchi Kawaguchi has worked on a broad array of research and artistic creation projects, for example: True (2007) and Node-The Old Man of the Desert (2013), together with Dumb Type member Takayuki Fujimoto and Tsuyoshi Shirai, and Tri-K (2010), with Dick Wong and Koichi Imaizumi. He was also the director of Tokyo’s International Festival of Gay and Lesbian Cinema between 1996 and 1999, and has translated Chroma (2003, Uplink), a book by experimental film-maker Derek Jarman, into Japanese. Furthermore, Kawaguchi was involved in Edmund Yeo’s Kingyo, a short film which competed at the Venice Film Festival in 2009.
This activity is part of the Performing Arts Series designed by Teatros del Canal and the Museo Reina Sofía.
In collaboration with: