The Accidental Festival last week brought various performers from across the arts to the Central School of Speech and Drama in order to showcase and celebrate various types of dance, theatre, music and performance art.
I was there at the Japanese Butoh Dance Workshop on Thursday 2nd May to get an inside experience of the festival.
Butoh is a dance form that began to take shape in 1960s Japan, born from the meeting of Tatsumi Hijikata, a choreographer, and Kazuo Ohno, a dancer. Both men felt a need to express their response to the horrors of WWII, which by the 1960s had gone far beyond the mere destruction and death of war to the cancers and psychological scars of the following generation. For the highly-political Hijitaka, this expression sought to subvert authority and challenge tradition, whilst Ohno brought to it a desire to find beauty in dark themes; the original art form that resulted was Ankoku-Buyou (translating to Dance of Darkness.) As the movement progressed, it became ‘Butoh’ and developed an aesthetic that was fragile and exposed, with dancers often wearing only a loin cloth, and painted in full body paint. This aesthetic suits the esoteric themes of the dance- death, the afterlife, spirituality- allowing the dancers to be elevated above human existence to appear as almost supernatural beings- like ghosts upon the stage.
I had long been drawn to the aesthetic of this dance movement but at the Accidental Festival workshop the focus was rightly upon the movement. Led by Hannah Skywalker Dancer Heart, a master of Butoh currently studying for her phd in dance theory, we were encouraged to unlock the movement from within ourselves, shedding past training and learned styles to perform in a way that was more improvisational and ‘honest’. This culminated in a ‘Life Cycle’ where we enacted our lives from birth to death, traversing the room in unison but dancing completely individually, left to find our own movement.
All in all, the class was a thorough and insightful introduction into Butoh, which in itself is an incredibly complex dance form. The workshop moved from actual dance to group discussion and Hannah was obviously emotionally invested in her craft, an attachment and passion that was incredibly infectious.
As an introduction to the Accidental Festival, this workshop was a quirky and high-quality insight into an unusual art form- and that is exactly what the festival stands for.