by Ray Sikorski
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – When put to the task of writing an article about Ledoh, a practitioner of the performing art known as butoh, a question that naturally came up was, “What is butoh?”
“Well, you’re gonna ask ten different butoh performers, and you’re gonna get ten different answers,” Ledoh said.
I knew butoh to be a sort of dance form, although Ledoh disliked the usage of both “dance” and “form” when it came to butoh. He considered it a “movement,” akin to a literary or political movement. I knew it often involved white body makeup and incredibly slow movements… although neither of these are essential. Butoh appeared to be wide open to the performer’s interpretation.
I recalled a Thelonious Monk quote: “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” So it is with butoh. To experience it is to know… but even that would only offer insight into Ledoh’s own take on it.
Alas, what we have at our disposal are mere words – words about Ledoh’s journey from a refugee of the Karen hill tribe, who escaped from Burma with his family at age 11. Transplanted in the northeastern United States, Ledoh felt out of place, and had an itch to roam. Throughout his 20s he traveled, notably to Japan. There, he encountered butoh in the land where it was created – and not so long ago, a product of post-WWII dissatisfaction with defeat, occupation, devastation, and humiliation. Ledoh had never danced before, but something about butoh resonated with him… was it a sense of kinship to the persecution placed upon his own people? Ledoh said it was an emptying of the body, a seeing of himself, for the first time, as a blank slate. And perhaps the two are related.
“My take on art, and my take on butoh, is from the angle or perspective of an indigenous person maneuvering through this world, and doing time in this body, and doing time in this space,” he said.
“It’s not just the movement is slow; it’s something else in it. It’s about participating in, and being interested in the movement. Of course, you have to condition and train our bodies in order to do movement, but once you’re performing and sharing with the audience, I have to be fully honest with myself. And I have to be interested in my movement. I cannot think about what they’re thinking. I cannot see myself from their perspective, seeing this person, me, moving. Because I have to see it from within me, and I cannot use my mind to do that. I have to be present, fully, in order to be interested in it.”
Since learning butoh in Japan, Ledoh, now 47, has taken it back to the United States. He and his Salt Farm Butoh Dance Company have performed throughout the U.S. as well as abroad, most recently in the nation of Georgia in the fall of 2008.
“Even the smallest, silliest gesture – I have to envelop myself in it,” he said. “And I have to fully be interested, of course. And then, there will be interest by the audience.”
Like dancing about the architecture of the Self.
More about Ledoh and his Salt Farm Butoh Dance Company can be found at www.ledoh.org.
Ray Sikorski wrote and directed his first one-act play in 1988, and his second 20 years later. He is a freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana.
Additional articles by Ray Sikorski incude:
- Eliot Fintushel: squaring Zen with live theater
- Paul Gilger: bringing industrial light, magic and Showtune to the world
- Ryan Cassavaugh: humbly toiling in theater for applause