Though much younger than the late Kazuo Ohno and the late Tatsumi Hijikata, two legends of butoh, Akira Kasai was also a pioneer of the art form in the 1960s and ’70s. He was even dubbed the “Nijinsky of butoh.”
Now, a performance in Tokyo is set to feature Kasai, 67, performing with his 35-year-old son Mitsutake. The show, “Tsui” (“Pair”), could turn out to be an artistic amalgamation or a feud between two styles of bodily expression.
After studying modern dance, pantomime and classical ballet, Akira Kasai met Ohno and performed with him in “Gigi” in 1963. He also joined the performance of Hijikata’s “Bara-iro dansu” (Rose-colored dance) in 1965.
Although he may be called a butoh dancer, Kasai’s style of dance is clearly different from what is usually associated with butoh —— slow, horizontal movements at low positions deriving from the life and soul of traditional Japanese farmers. Instead, Kasai concentrates on fierce horizontal and vertical movements, using the expanse of the stage, but with some humorous or clownlike elements.
In 1971, Kasai established Tenshi-kan (House of Angels) in Tokyo’s western suburb of Kokubunji as an institute in which he taught dance. His interest in Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy and eurythmy (an art of bodily movement based on a theory that there are archetypal movements corresponding to every aspect of speech, music and emotion) led him to study in Stuttgart, Germany, from 1979 until 1985. He resumed giving public butoh performances in 1994 after some 15 years’ lapse.
In “Pollen Revolution,” with which he toured in the United States in the fall of 2004, he first appeared as a woman dressed in a traditional kabuki costume, who eventually morphed into a hip-hop dancer. He once said that the human body is filled with material containing both the universe’s beginning and end and that when he dances, that material dances.
Mitsutake Kasai, who performed his first solo dance in 1998, combines butoh, hip-hop and breakdancing. He studied dance, including tap dance, in New York for one year under a 2008 fiscal project of the Cultural Affairs Agency to dispatch promising artists abroad to study. The skills he acquired in New York will be featured in the coming performance.
“Tsui” (“Pair”) will be performed from 7 p.m. on Dec. 18 and 5 p.m. on Dec. 19 at Session House in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. Tickets cost ¥3,000 in advance (¥2,000 for students) and ¥3,500 at the door. For more details, call (03) 3266-0461 or visit www.session-house.net.