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Butoh master shows his class

by Nobuko Tanaka

Akaji Maro, founder of the Dairakudakan (Great Camel Ship) company, and one of Japan’s revered icons of the butoh dance form, is known for often speaking rather obliquely. Speaking during rehearsals last July for the world premier of his company’s “Secrets of Mankind” at the American Dance Festival’s 75th Anniversary event in Durham, North Carolina, Maro did just that, declaring: “You can’t find any butoh inside the butoh world. You should be outside of butoh. You need to try to look for it inside of yourself, in your own history, whether it’s (lousy) things or messy things, it’s OK. . . . I am trying to move from butoh, but it’s still butoh.”

Indeed, 65-year-old Maro and his troupe are actively involved in a wide range of activities across the performing-arts scene, constantly searching out new ways to express themselves beyond their trademark eerie dancing with their near-naked bodies whitened shamanlike with ash.

In 2006, for example, they collaborated with the leading French choreographer Josef Nadj to create an imaginative modern dance performance, “Asobu” (“Play”) at the Festival d’Avignon in the South of France, and Maro himself often crosses over to take (silent) parts in contemporary theatrical works.

As a company, though, Dairakudakan has long sought out possible futures for butoh in three distinct ways (as well as by regularly holding workshops with ordinary people).

The company’s small-scale Kochuten productions are created and performed by different core members of the company, while its main productions, called Temputenshiki, are choreographed by Maro and performed by him and all the troupe’s male and female members.

“Symphony M,” which will be staged at the Setagaya Public Theater in Tokyo this weekend, represents the third main thread of the company’s quest — the ongoing Akaji Maro project, which features programs choreographed by the founder, with his solo dance at their core. This time, Maro leads a “corps de butoh” of 14 male dancers.

During the piece, Maro will perform a dance to express his aging and the artistic relationship he has with his proteges.

“Symphony M” runs till Feb. 22 at Setagaya Public Theatre, near Sangenjaya Station on the Denentoshi Line. For details, visit www.dairakudakan.com