The December 43 Newsletter

Felt Connections between Quaker and Butoh Practice

As the novelist E.M. Forster once wrote, ‘Only connect’. This inspiring injunction has meant a lot to me throughout my life, and even become something of a habit. Today I would like to share with you some of the connections I see between my practice as a Quaker and as a Butoh dancer.

Butoh dance emerged in American-occupied post-war Japan and is still little known in Europe. It is not easy to define, mainly because of its commitment to resisting standard definition and easy categorization. Today though, many of us will be aware of it through the Red Rebels branch of Extinction Rebellion, whose movements and guerrilla approaches are quintessentially Butoh.

To evoke what Butoh seeks to articulate, its two founding fathers, Kazuo Ohno and Hijikata Tatsumi, called it a dance of both darkness and light; one concerned with preserving community in all its diversity, respecting messiness and shadows as well as the light within, and inspiring personal transformation.

Two key elements of its language, silence and a combination of charged stillness and movement, are used to connect with our humanness, move us away from seeing the mind as distinct from the body, and instead see the body as the home of thought and feeling. It is in such ways of seeking for a naked enlivening encounter with the source of our being I find first parallels between Quaker and Butoh practice.

It is also very much understood as a spiritual practice that can serve as a channel for grace: one in which refletion and experimentation lead to change and fresh perspectives. As Kazuo Ohno put it, ‘find the spirit and the form will take care of itself’. This resonates for me with my understanding of ministry, and the belief each of us has something new and of value to other others.

Finally, I see another connection in Butoh’s expression of deeply engrained, personal, and collective politics. Butoh was from the outset conceptualised as an activist dance form that rejects the ‘bad check called democracy’ (Hijikata Tatsumi). Hence it is often used to call attention to environmental and social issues.

Rather than my explaining more, why not come to watch a performance in Oxford? The group I practice with, Café Reason Butoh Dance Theatre, are performing at Corpus Chris College on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 January 2020. The show is called ‘Tipping Point’ and is a creative response to the threat of climate change. For more details, and to book, please see here, or go the Café Reason website at http://www.cafereason.com/

Juliet Henderson

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