Tantric Theatre: Liberation Butoh

Butoh is a form of Japanese dance theatre that encompasses a diverse range of activities, techniques and motivations for dance, performance, or movement. Following World War II, butoh arose in 1959 through collaborations between its two key founders Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo. The art form is known to “resist fixity” and be difficult to define; notably, founder Hijikata Tatsumi viewed the formalisation of butoh with “distress”. Common features of the art form include playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, extreme or absurd environments, and is traditionally performed in white body makeup with slow hyper-controlled motion. However, with time butoh groups are increasingly being formed around the world, with their various aesthetic ideals and intentions.

Dance of Darkness:

In order to be liberated, we need to know what it is we are being liberated into. Buddhism can liberate us from the slavish adherence to goals, achievement, direction. It is a path with no purpose, a journey with no destination. Butoh is a kind of tantric theatre. Tantric theatre is the expression of our human capacity to create magic. We are all siddhas, we are magicians already because we brilliantly combine the material and the symbolic. We create gods, demons, myths, stories. These creations serve no purpose, achieve no goals. They are pure expression for its own sake, pure experience, pure magic. But our creative capacity for magic has been appropriated into serving the giant machine that is Civilization, currently known as capitalism. Civilization is a technological machine for controlling human creativity and directing it toward greater productivity, the production of consumption, the production and consumption of useless material things. Technological systems have technological problems that must be constantly solved. We are enslaved by the civilization machine into solving its technical problems, helping it run smoothly, so it can produce more productivity, more consumption, more things. But greater productivity leads to greater extraction of the earthly resources we need for our survival, for all life on this planet. If we free our magical capacity from the machine and simply use it to create magic, we will demand less of our earth. We will be in harmony with a planetary being that also creates for no purpose other than to make beautiful magic. Humans have an extraordinary capacity for meaning-making and excess production. But so long as that excess production serves no productive purpose, achieves no goals, it will be in balance with the earth and it will not do any harm. We are beautiful magicians who create gods. That is what tantra is trying to teach us.


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