Forget Butoh

15 February 2013

“Forget Butoh”: a conversation with Natsu Nakajima

by Dominique Baron-Bonarjee ©

I met Natsu Nakajima just after 5pm in Yotsuya Sanchome, Tokyo. We headed to the nearest café and about five seconds after we sat down upstairs with our drinks and just after I had switched on the recorder, an earthquake struck. The building shook for about a minute, we rushed downstairs leaving our drinks intact: Natsu was concerned about the sturdiness of the staircase. We later found out that it was a rather serious tremor from an earthquake of magnitude 7.3 just off the coast of Japan. It again caused a small tsunami in northern Japan. Apparently it was an aftershock from the great earthquake of 11 March 2011.

This shake up was a fitting way to start this interview with Natsu Nakajima, one of the first female dancers to be involved in Hijikata’s ‘Butoh activities’ in the 1960s. Natsu is an energetic, petite and striking woman. She is still very active today, teaching regular classes (which I attend) and working on choreography projects both in Japan and abroad, particularly in Mexico.

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DBB: You were one of the first female dancers working with Hijikata, how did you come to know about his dance and what attracted you to it in the first place and made you follow this path over other forms of dance?

NN: At first, after high school I was a part of a group who did copies of Hijikata’s work and Terayama’s (Shuji) work. Many young people gathered together. It was a political time and our high school, among others, was at the centre of this climate. One of the members of our group was Akira Kasai. We met soon after high school and worked together. Macoto Sato was also a part of it; now he is a well-known director based at the theatre in Koenji and also at Black Tent.

I had been dancing at the Masami Kuni Dance Institute since high school days. Masami Kuni was an important dancer who was instrumental in bringing German expressionism to Japan. He had been a student of Mary Wigman’s and he was a big power in dance education.

Then around that period Hijikata did ‘Kinjiki’ (Forbidden Colours). Macoto Sato went to see it but Kasai and I didn’t see it, but we knew about it immediately. And after that it wasn’t interesting for me to study at Masami Kuni’s anymore so I wanted to find somewhere else. Me and two other members of Masami Kuni’s institute decided to knock on Hijikata’s door first. But Hijikata pretended he was homosexual. He accepted Kasai Akira and two male classmates from my high school, but not the females. So us three girls went to Kazuo Ohno’s to learn instead. We knew Hijikata wasn’t homosexual and he would open his classes to women soon. So the first year the women went to Kazuo Ohno. Kasai went to both Hijikata and Ohno.

DBB: You knew about Hijikata through ‘Kinjiki’, so what attracted you to Kazuo Ohno’s dance?…


 

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