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Damiano Fina

Damiano Fina performing butoh "The Presage of The Phoenix"

The purpose of my research is to establish the methodological foundations for a pedagogy that assumes the task of letting out the free expression of all organisms. Queer pedagogy is based on queer theory and butoh dance, merging philosophy and art practice during the research. Butoh dance is founded on the ritual, that is considered as a magnificent experience of transformation. Subverting rules and conventions through the divination of chaos, the ritual establishes a new cosmos. The research founds in the ritual a breeding ground for a queer pedagogy.

What is butoh dance?

For Sondra Fraleigh[1] butoh is a shocking and provocative dance, which upsets the traditional gender distinctions and the differences between East and West of the world in its use of music and costumes. Butoh is defined by its founders as a forbidden, subversive, cathartic and liberating dance.

Butoh performs an androgynous aesthetic and integrates a movement in which the key elements are Eros and Thanatos. Eros (life, brightness, love, fullness) is a sensuous power that exists in connection with Thanatos (death, darkness, emptiness). Butoh dances the space in between these qualities of experience, queerly merging dualities and breaking conventions.

Queer Pedagogy and Butoh Dance: the example of Kannon

Queer pedagogy finds an experiential environment in butoh dance. For instance, one of the most iconic images of butoh is Kannon, the god/goddess of mercy. The power of this Japanese god/goddess, both male and female, lies in metamorphosis. Performing the mythological figure of Kannon, butoh dance is intended to express the mystical union of natural forces, bestowing utmost respect to all the elements of existence, including human beings. Both Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno, the founders of this ritual dance, used to dance in male and female costumes, staging both the yin and yang components of their existences.

In butoh dance all the distinctions disappear, including gender conventions or differences between human beings and nature. Kannon, with its gentle while tumultuous voice, represents the free and spontaneous dance of emotions and sensations. Rather than taking sides, Kannon shines in their sensual relationship.

Performing gender: Kazuo Ohno

Kannon is a great example, but butoh dance tells us more than a myth. Makeup and stage costumes are a central point of butoh performance. Far from being considered simple masks, makeup and stage costumes are forms of expression that allow the butoh performer to get in touch with what it is meant to evoke.

Makeup art becomes a ritual, an integral part of the performance, through which the performer gives shape of a figure that grows from the origins of its feelings.

Regarding the makeup, Kazuo Ohno said: “My intentions in dressing like a woman onstage has never been to become a female impersonator, or to transform myself into a woman. Rather, I want to trace my life back to its most distant origins. More so than anything else, I long to return to where I’ve come from.”[2]

Kazuo yearns to achieve the truth through an act of self expression and social recognition: dancing.

The central role of the ritual for a queer pedagogy

The ritual creates a previleged atmosphere in which human organism can rebuild a connection between its inner world and the surrounding. Before the ritual, the community starts creating a holy atmosphere. During the ritual all the differences between the physical and the social body are broken down.

Human organism is allowed to explore its expressions, transforming and renewing itself again and again. This opportunity for self-experimentation is usually the key for the catharsis of the community. As we understang watching a butoh performance, self-expression and social recognition are linked together, setting up a new order of things at the end of the ritual. Transformation and even excess are recognized as chaotic moments experienced to create a new order[3].

In butoh dance the performance is a ritual in which performers and audiences have experience of darkness and brightness, hollow and creation, death and life as tranformative moments of the existence. Moments of wilderness and chaos and moments of infinite peace and calmness are meant to be revelations of the metamorphic truth of the universe.

Trough acts of ungliness as well as beauty, butoh performers believe they can share enlightenment.

[1] Fraleigh S. e Nakamura T., Hijikata Tatsumi and Kazuo Ohno, Routledge, 2006.[2] Ohno K. And Y., Kazuo Ohno’s World, Wesleyan University Press, 2004.[3] Cf. Aristotle’s Poetics.

Read more about the book “The Dance of Eros and Thanatos: Butoh and Queer Pedagogy”.

"Sensing vertebra by vertebra. Art is a vulnerable hunt."


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