BUTOH: ON THE EDGE OF CRISIS?A Critical Analysis of the Japanese Avant-garde Dance Form in a Postmodern Perspective
Butoh was part of the Japanese post-war avant-garde art movement, but what role does the avant-garde now play in contemporary Japanese society? Expressing a feeling of hopelessness, Butoh and the experimental theatre of post-war Japan lamented that the conceptions of art, religion, politics and culture had lost their meaning. However, in postmodern philosophy the world has become deconstructed, meaning that the artworks cannot claim to have universal value any longer. This makes it necessary for Butoh and the historical avant-garde to reflect on their old ideologies. I have chosen to take a phenomenological view on Butoh, because phenomenologist philosophy emphasizes dance’s ability to go behind the words and to express man’s basic instincts and desires on which the French phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty calls the primordial level. The historical avant-garde reproaches language for repressing our basic instincts, and because the Butoh dancers exactly seek to express this dark side of man, a place where elements of eros and tanatos are hiding, through the means of the flesh. Using the performance theories of avant-garde theatre director Richard Schechner, I will further try to explain what characterized the avant-garde theatre movement in the past. Then, by using Peter Bürger’s Theory of the Avant-garde, I will try to show how the historical avant-garde was embraced by the Art institution, and how it became institutionalised. Finally, with the help of the post-structuralist theories of Barthes, Lyotard and Derrida, I will try to explain why the avant-garde political philosophy is incompatible with post-structuralist philosophy.