Ushio Amagatsu, Japanese Dancer Who Popularized Butoh, Dies at 74

Ushio Amagatsu, an acclaimed dancer and choreographer who brought worldwide visibility to Butoh, a hauntingly minimalist Japanese form of dance theater that arose in the wake of wartime devastation, died on March 25 in Odawara, Japan. He was 74.

The cause of his death, in a hospital, was heart failure, said Semimaru, a founding member of Mr. Amagatsu’s celebrated contemporary dance company, Sankai Juku.

Butoh is an Anglicized version of “buto,” derived from “ankoku buto,” which translates to “dance of darkness.” It draws inspiration from surrealist European art movements like Dadaism.

Butoh was pioneered by Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikatain the late 1950s and early ’60s, when Japan was still rebuilding from the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as dozens of other cities, during World War II. It was part of a countercultural movement that questioned existing values as well as those flooding in from the West, Semimaru said in an email, and it was an attempt to restore Japanese physicality in an unfamiliar new era.

Pointedly anti-traditionalist, Butoh rejected both Western and traditional Japanese dance aesthetics. It is performed by dancers in ghostly white body powder, symbolically erasing the personalities of the individual dancers to focus on humanity as a whole. They contorted their bodies and facial expressions as they explored the most primal recesses of the human experience — the sexual, the grotesque, birth, evolution.

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