What we Know and what we Want to Know

A roundtable on butoh and neuer Tanz

Authored by: Kate Elswit , Miyagawa Mariko , Eiko Otake , Tara Rodman

The Routledge Companion to Butoh Performance

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138691094
eBook ISBN: 9781315536132
Adobe ISBN:


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The connection of butoh with early twentieth century German modern dance or neuer Tanz feels both known and unknown at the same time. On the one hand, there is the acknowledgement of particular German teachers and Japanese students that has grown over the past few decades to almost-requisite in the majority of texts on butoh. Key English-language texts to develop this argument include Klein (1988); Fraleigh (1999); and Sas (2003). This one-directional flow has been complicated in recent years by scholarship that highlights how the European avant-gardes of the 1920s and 1930s were already drawing extensively on Asian practices that had traveled from Japan and elsewhere, from theatre to art and decorative objects. Sondra Fraleigh and Tamah Nakamura summarize that this early period of butoh aesthetic “loops historically from Japan to the west, and goes back to Japan” (Fraleigh and Nakamura 2006, 13). On the other hand, there remain questions around these kernels of genealogy that have to do among other things with how this lineage and its influences have manifested in the work itself, such as the relationship between the aesthetics of dance theatre or Tanztheater and of butoh, given that both developed as forms of rebellion out of Axis countries after World War II. Such considerations often come down to various culturally-loaded understandings of expressionistic and neo-expressionistic practices. Another set of lingering questions thread through both the facts of historical connections and the reflections on practice; these have to do with the story of the butoh-neuer Tanz connection itself. It is also useful to ask what these myths are and what they do, in other words, the stakes inherent in how particular affinities have been traced and narrated.

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