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Online course

Exploring Japanese Avant-garde Art Through Butoh Dance

See how Japanese art absorbed, refigured and influenced Western art in the 20th century through Hijikata Tatsumi's butoh dance.

Exploring Japanese Avant-garde Art Through Butoh Dance

Get an introduction to the key concepts of Japanese avant-garde art

Butoh dance is practiced and researched globally, but the work of its founder, Hijikata Tatsumi, is relatively unknown. This is in part because archival materials necessary to learning about Hijikata’s butoh are not widely disseminated.

This online course will make use of a wide range of archival materials in order to introduce Hijikata’s butoh within the context of Japanese and international post-war art and culture.

In doing so, it will both deepen the global understanding of butoh and explore innovative methods for dance education.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsHas everyone come across a dance form called butoh? Butoh is a genre of performance art that comes out of Japan. It began in the late 1950s, so only has a roughly 60-year old history, but it has spread internationally during that time. On this course, we will be focusing on the world’s first butoh dancer, Tatsumi Hijikata. So, to introduce myself. I am Yohko Watanabe, a curator at Keio University Art Center. The Art Center is a research institution which focusses on post-war Japanese art. And one of our activities is managing the Tatsumi Hijikata Archive. Tatsumi Hijikata created butoh dance having studied modern dance and classical ballet.

Skip to 1 minute and 0 secondsHe shaped butoh both as a rejection of those preceding dance forms and in response to the influence of European philosophy and art. So, we might want to ask exactly what kind of context could have given rise to butoh? We will begin this course by exploring Hijikata’s creation of butoh dance from the 1950s to 1960s, in order to get a sense of what is meant by the term “butoh.” From here, we will turn to the revolution of butoh during the 1970s, which will be the focus of week 2 of the course. In the 1970s, Hijikata began to explore new ideas, themes, and techniques, at the same time as refining a new choreographic method.

Skip to 1 minute and 53 secondsSo, it was during this period that the butoh method, as such, was established. Butoh dance uses notation, just as music uses a score. And it is this form of butoh notation, or “butoh fu,” that will be the focus of the third week. Building on your understanding of Hijikata’s butoh method from week 2, we will be delving into the world of Hijikata’s “notational butoh.” This will be framed in relation to the other ways in which dance notation has developed internationally. Though it is over 30 years since Hijikata passed away in 1986, the dancers who learned butoh under his direction continue to preserve the heritage and aesthetics of his dance form.

Skip to 2 minutes and 43 secondsIn the last week, we will be looking at the dissemination and reception of butoh internationally, and at the international research of butoh. Finally, we will wrap things up by thinking about the development and future of butoh. Throughout the course, we will be making use of archival documents housed at the Art Center. We will also be inviting guest teachers like Rosa van Hensbergen, who researches dance notation and butoh dance to offer you a wide range of perspectives on the dance form. Our hope is that, through learning about butoh dance, your eyes will be opened to a new art form, created in the far East in the late 20th century.

What topics will you cover?

  • “Towards Butoh: Experimentation” will cover Hijikata’s work from the late 1950s to late 1960s, introducing key works like “Forbidden Colours” (1959) and “Revolt of the Flesh” (1968). Its thematic focus will be on the Tokyo Experimental art scene of the 1960s, and on the influence of Western thinking and art on Hijikata’s work.
  • “Dancing Butoh: Embodiment” will cover Hijikata’s work from the early to mid 1970s, through the series of performances “27 Nights for Four Seasons” (1972), and a handful of works that followed. It will consider Hijikata’s relationship to his hometown Akita in terms of Japanese traditional arts and Eastern body theories.
  • “Behind Butoh: Creation” will focus on works from the late 1970s like “Costume in Front” and “Human Form” (both 1976) to explore the choreographic method and notation behind Hijikata’s butoh.
  • “Expanding Butoh: Globalisation” will consider the spread of butoh abroad from the late 1970s onwards through a number of key festivals, such as “MA: Espace-Temps du Japon” (Paris, 1977) and the first international “Butoh Festival” (Berlin, 1985). Foreign researchers, such as Sylviane Pages and Katje Centonze will be invited as guest lecturers to present on this session.

When would you like to start?

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Users can expect to learn how to collect and analyse archival materials relating, performance, dance and related artworks;
  • To explore ways of connecting dance to its historical and cultural contexts;
  • To synthesise information relating to dance’s methods of creation (notation) with its creative outcomes (performance);
  • To collaborate with other users in researching the contexts of dance creation;
  • And to reflect on how research transforms the experience of viewing dance.

Who is the course for?

The course is aimed at any individual with an interest in Japanese culture and art, the experimental arts, and the performing arts, but it is principally directed towards undergraduate and postgraduate students, researchers and practicing artists.

The course also aims to be useful for educators wishing to deliver lectures and courses on butoh.

Who will you learn with?

Yohko Watanabe

I am professor and curator at Keio University Art Center, was a curator at Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. I am the educator of " Exploring Japanese Avant-garde Art Through Butoh Dance" course.

Takashi Morishita

I am director of Hijikata Tatsumi Archive in Keio University Art Center.
I am the educator of " Exploring Japanese Avant-garde Art Through Butoh Dance" course.

Rosa van Hensbergen

I'm Rosa van Hensbergen, a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge, and one of the educators on the FutureLearn Course "Exploring Japanese Avant-garde Art Through Butoh Dance."

Who developed the course?

Keio University is Japan’s first modern institution of higher learning, and since 1858 has established itself as a leader in Japan through its continued commitment to education, research and medicine.

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