|Kazuo Ohno performing for a PBS presentation in 2000. (J. Sinnott/Pbs)|
Kazuo Ohno, 103; founded Japanese dance style Butoh
TOKYO — Kazuo Ohno, who brought the Japanese modern dance style of Butoh to the international stage and charmed audiences with eerie but poetic performances, has died. He was 103.
Mr. Ohno was credited along with Tatsumi Hijikata as a founder of Butoh, a dance form characterized by slow movements executed in a low crouched stance and often performed in whiteface. He died Tuesday of respiratory failure, Japanese news reports said.
Mr. Ohno was one of the chief players in the formative years of Butoh, starting in the late 1950s. Butoh is now studied all over the world.
Among Mr. Ohno’s signature pieces was “Admiring La Argentina,’’ a solo originally directed by Hijikata in which Mr. Ohno pays homage to and impersonates Spanish dancer Antonia Merce, whom Mr. Ohno saw as a student and deeply admired.
Over the years, Mr. Ohno has influenced every Butoh performer, including the US-based Eiko and Koma, a pair of dancers who studied with Ohno at his studio in Yokohama.
“He was a miraculously extraordinary dancer who taught us the lesson that existence is a fragile state of nonexistence,’’ said Akaji Maro, leader of the dance troupe Dairakudakan, which is based in Tokyo. “May he continue to shed light as a spiritual guardian for all young Butoh dancers.’’
Unlike Hijikata’s performances, dominated by themes of violence and defiance, Mr. Ohno’s messages in his dance were gently whimsical but equally provocative and daring in raising questions about definitions of beauty and death.
Mr. Ohno was born on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, a son of a fisherman. He began to study dance after graduating from college in the 1930s, including under Japanese modern dancer Baku Ishii.
Mr. Ohno was active in his 70s and 80s, performing in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere.
He remained determined to perform even in his 90s and so danced seated in a chair.
Wearing long dresses and fancy hats, sometimes a tattered kimono, Mr. Ohno appeared on stage, often curling his body, contorting his face, and bending his arms crookedly.
Yet, at the same time, he would transform into a graceful, eternally beautiful woman in the essence of his statements and otherworldly presence.
“Both strength and kindness were expressed in his works; he delivered hope through dance,’’ Eikoh Hosoe, a photographer who documented Mr. Ohno for a half century, told The Nikkei newspaper. “We have lost a giant jewel.’’
Funeral arrangements were undecided.