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Impressions of “About Kazuo Ohno – Reliving the Butoh Diva’s Masterpieces”

Impressions of “About Kazuo Ohno – Reliving the Butoh Diva’s Masterpieces”
Deirdre Towers/Follow @deirdre.towers on Instagram

By Deirdre Towers/Follow @deirdre.towers on Instagram
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Published on September 20, 2016
Takao Kawaguchi; Photo: Ayumi Sakamoto

Takao Kawaguchi and Big Dance Theater at Japan Society

September 16, 2016
Performers: Takao Kawaguchi, Paul Lazar, Tymberly Canale
Choreography: Takao Kawaguchi, Annie-B Parson, Kazuo Ohno
Company: Big Dance Theater in Resplendent Shimmering Topaz Waterfall

Unlike the main performer Takao Kawaguchi in this show, I had the opportunity to see Kazuo Ohno perform live. Experiencing Ohno at La Mama twenty-some years ago was akin to witnessing a phenomenon as distinct as the Grand Canyon, or an artist with the unique charms of Rudolf Nureyev or Marcel Marceau. He seemed inimitable, fragile, but magnetic. He knew how to silence a crowd so that the whispers of his heart resonated.

Kawaguchi showed that he too can captivate an audience whose attention was as remarkable as his performance. Kawaguchi appeared first in a playful, boundless improvisation outside and inside the Japan Society. On roller skates, fighting a blue rain slicker, he delighted a group of little boys who ran after him on the sidewalk. Oblivious to everyone, Kawaguchi crouched and crawled the walls and gardens in the airy Society with intense curiosity. The wild-eyed Kawaguchi appealed to our primal selves.

Takao Kawaguchi in a black suit. He holds he bends his arm close to his chest. His hand is near his face.
Takao Kawaguchi; Photo: Ayumi Sakamoto

As the opening for the stage portion of the evening, Paul Lazar from The Big Dance Theater appeared wearing a mushed hat and rags designed by Suzanne Bocanegra. His limp-wristed gestures brought to mind Samuel Beckett’s hapless characters in Waiting for Godot. His mesmerizing solo said much about nothing with aplomb. When Tymberly Canale joined him, her youthful logic and focus almost snapped his and our reverie. This duet called Resplendent Shimmering Topaz Waterfall, was inspired by the notations of a work by Tatsumi Hijikata.

Kawaguchi is in a large white housecoat. He throws his head back and mouth agape.
Takao Kawaguchi; Photo: Ayumi Sakamoto

Presented just weeks before what would have been Ohno’s 110th birthday, “About Kazuo Ohno - Reliving the Butoh Diva’s Masterpieces” is a respectable reconstruction of Ohno’s masterpieces, including Admiring La Argentina (1977) and My Mother (1981). As Yoko Shioya, Japan Society Artistic Director, said, “Though we see only one performer on stage, audiences may be haunted by a feeling that this performance is a duet – Kawaguchi dancing with Ohno.” 

Kawaguchi is much younger than Ohno was in performing prime, so that he doesn’t have as many rings to his tree, his bark is less thick and brittle, but he has a virtuosic command of his neck. The way he holds his hands, bends his neck, buckles at the knees suggests awe. While many artists may dance their ode to joy, few manage to communicate, as does Ohno, wonder. His dances with their micro movements and sudden leaps stem from the sensual pleasures of discovery. Kawaguchi miraculously evokes Ohno’s gifts.

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