trance dance: 暗黒舞踊 Ankoku Butoh

King River Press is pleased to announced that our newest verse collection by our writer/founder, Jodie Hawthorne, is now available in PDF format. Cover image (above) by Felix Brönnimann. Content images by Kohji Asakawa (edited and used with permission)

Ankoku Butoh or Dance of Darkness is loosely described as a combination of spiritual dance and movement theatre performance. Personal, free and fluid in nature, Butoh is a fusion and therefore, and perhaps deliberately, not easy to describe. Ankoku Butoh has also aptly been translated as, foreign dance of darkness.

Initial founder-practitioners, Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno pioneered this radical and unorthodox practice in Japan’s vulnerable post Second World War environment. Butoh and imitations of it are still practiced today by dancers in Japan and internationally. Athough Butoh was formed on Japanese soil, the author does not see Butoh as being a Japanese form of dance, nor that its origins are in any way connected to Japanese traditional culture, quite the contrary.

The works of Hijikata and Ohno were heavily influenced by Weimar Germany’s Tanztheater and other avant-garde European creators such as, Antonin Artaud, Jean Genet, Antonia Mercé, Harald Kreutzberg and Mary Wigman. Butoh was inspired by the dark and modern influences of some of their performances and in it’s orginal form has been described as primal, sexual, savage, cruel and violent.

Traditional and modern Butoh experiences have produced mixed results. Much of what we now publicly see in modern Butoh are watered down versions and far from its very dark beginnings. Sadly, there are also hints of exploitation of women practitioners both in the past and present. This work is an outsider’s creative response to researching and viewing the practice. Jodie came to know of Butoh through her interest in Japanese traditional culture, particularly Zen Buddhism and the writing of haiku and related verse; these influences may be apparent in the poems of this collection.

Please do take a look at the references included below as they inform this introduction and the poetry collection.

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Sample poems

The Tree House

earth elements

wasted on

childhood dreams

a controlled breakdown

white sun
black heart


the light
The Afterlife

Gruidae figure

to be


timeless serpents

this dreamtime

no space
for emotion

layers of
the searching self
The New Beginning

the house of pain

gloom smears
the land of the rising sun

internal darkness
on display

hideous traits of

is born

References and Further Reading

General Information

Butoh – Wikipedia

A Short Introduction to Butoh – Sadler’s Well Theatre


Butoh Dance Performance in Japan

Kuzuo Ono – The Dead Sea

The Art of Butoh and Danny Elfman

Dancing in Between – Portrait of Butoh with Tadashi Endo

News Stories

The Unravelling of a Dancer – New Yorker by Rachel Aviv

Academic Writing

Drawing us in: The Australian Experience of Butoh and Body Weather – Jasmine Robertson

Woman as Plaything? Configeration of the Feminine in Japanese Butoh – Catherine Curtin

An Inquiry into the Creative Processses of Butoh – Pao-Yi Liao

The Originating Impulses of Ankoku Butoh – Orlando Vincent Turner