Butoh (emphasis on the TOH) is a form of dance as performance art
, which originated in Japan
after World War II
. Founded by Tatsumi Hijikata
, it was first put into performance in May, 1959
The word is from the Japanese Bu (dance) and Toh (step).
Butoh is a contemporary dance form, with little relation to traditional Japanese or western approaches to dance, save for influence from German modernism. One element which cites traditional Japanese dance is the white body makeup used by some performers. Certain dancers have made variations on this, by incorporating red, black, or metallic makeup, or none at all.
As individual styles differ so widely, so too shall the artists' choices in costuming. Many butoh dancers make use of a wide variety of stage properties, with full costuming, and big, styled hair, while others incorporate no other elements than floor and body. Butoh is perhaps famous for being one of those artistic naked dance forms.
Dance conventions, also, vary with the individual performing artist, or artists. Butoh may be performed in large groups, or as solo work. There may be music, or not, and the movement may be frenetic, or very slow, very subtle.
What brings the dance form together is the process through which the dancer goes. There is always an element of meditation, or martial art training which is invested into the dancers' preparation. Butoh incorporates a focusing of energy, and a sense of agreement between the realm of the physical, and that of the mental, resulting in catharsis for the dancer and for the observers.
Butoh cannot by learned by, nor is it taught to whomever would learn. As it is not simply a dance form, exceptional dance ability alone does not a butoh performance artist make.
Hijikata's performance, Kinjiki, the first of its kind, was an adaptation of Forbidden Colours, a novel by Yukio Mishima. There was no music. There were two male dancers; one, a boy, made sweet love to a chicken, then let himself be seduced by the other, an adult. This didn't go over too well with either the board of directors or the audience. The lights were turned off partway through, and Hijikata was banned from the association of which he was part.
Over the next years, Butoh evolved and spread internationally, but lost its edge in its homeland of Japan.