Kazuo Ohno dead.

IF you were to ask me what was the most mystical experience in the
theater in all these past decades, I can say without shivering or even
taking half a breath: Kazuo Ohno.

It was here in New York, at La MaMa, that we hosted him for the first
time. When was that? Must have been at the end of the seventies, early
eighties. A couple of years later I saw him perform again, at the very
end of a twisty alleyway in Ropongui, Tokyo. Ohno made out of his art,
the ritual of death. Yes, his Butoh was different from that of Min
Tanaka’s and Sankai Juku’s.

Ohno incorporated something or, rather, ‘someone else’. What that was
exactly, is difficult to tell. There’s the rub: Who will ever be able
to really explain art? Who will ever be able to explain that which
makes you (willingly or not), swallow the essence of what you are and
feel it with all its pain beating as a heart at the core of your chest?

In his late ‘progressive age”: 70 or older, this female of a male
performer who got his inspiration from something I recall was titled La
Argentina ( a Dietrich version of a piece he had seen in post war
Germany), Ohno caused an uproar here on East 4th Street. Within
minutes, the Box Office had sold out.

Ohno’s Butoh is the dance which transcends death, just as in Tristan
Und Isolde, it is love which transcends death. Kazuo Ohno was Liebestod
himself, i.e. an incarnation of the Celtic Idea that ephemeral matters,
matter but only on another level. Which level I dare not…

Liebestod is the last aria sung by Isolde, with her Tristan dead on her
lap. Half dead, half alive on his stage, my impression is that his solo
act was accompanied by a heavy load of ‘entities’.

Seriously. That’s how it was.

I saw him once again at SESC Anchieta, in São Paulo and I was literally
carried out of the theater (for, I had fainted). Yes, I must have
fainted after having cried a river and because I saw, hovering over his
head and all around his contorted body, a mixture of pain and an
attitude of a trickster of a boy: I saw the bodies and souls of MY dead
loved ones such as Julian Beck, my own father and the likes of Artaud,
as well as so many others….

Each one saw his or hers entities through the ritualistic art put on
stage by this Japanese master who blended Noh and an the modern art
derived from a painful end of a Second World War. Yet, there was
something ‘candolmble’ (the Afro-Brazilian religion and ritual), about
him. My God! I cannot describe the degree of how shockingly beautiful
and strangely spooky this was. It was, in fact, far more than that.
Ohno was the Japanese version of the old Black voodoo creature. And to
think that, still now, on this flight which brought me from London to
NY, I was jotting down some thoughts about those entities who have
edified the art of our time:

Pina Bausch , Merce Cunningham, Bob Wilson, Philip Glass and Ohno. Strange thoughts went through my mind.

Ohno died exactly 11 months after Pina Bausch.

I am beginning to seriously believe how extraordinary it is how the
Gods of the theater drive against the one way system and the currents
of those who leave a legacy behind. And a tremendous legacy it is/was.

Just as in Beckett’s “Act without words, 1 and 2”. Kazuo was definitely Beckett’s unwritten “act number 3”.

His contorted hands still dig deep into my soul something I am sure
I’ll never find. And why won’t I? Because Butoh celebrates the only
contract we have with life: death. And Ohno, as a mixture of Rembrandt
and Warhol teased the crap out of death, yet moved us to tears with his

strange and estranged soul and the soul of theater itself for ever.

Goodbye my loved one.

Who will evoke you?


Gerald Thomas

June 2010

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