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Kazuo Ohno (October 27, 1906 – June 1, 2010) was a Japanese dancer who, along with Tatsumi Hijikata, is attributed with the origins of the dance form known as Butoh.
Butoh – or Ankoku-Butoh (Dance of Utter Darkness), typically involves playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, extreme or absurd environments, and is traditionally performed in white body makeup with slow hyper-controlled motion, with or without an audience. There is no set style, and it may be purely conceptual with no movement at all.
Kazuo Ohno was born in Hakodate City, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan, on October 27 in 1906 to a Russian-speaking father who was the lead of a local fishermans cooperative and a mother who was an expert in European cuisine and played the zither and organ. Although a poor student, Ohno demonstrated an aptitude for atheletics in junior high school, ultimately graduating from an atheletic college in 1929. During his time at Japan Atheletic College, he was taken by an administrator to see a performance by renound Spanish dancer, modernist and femenist Antonia Merce. This performance would change his life and inspire a later work entitled, "Admiring La Argenitina", regarded as a classic Ohno piece.
In 1938 Ohno was drafted into the Japanese army, another pivotal experience which seemed to have contributed greatly to his work and the development of the Butoh style. Initially drafted into the Japanese Army as a lieutenant, Ohno later rose to captain. He fought in China and New Guinea, where he was captured and interned by the Australians as a POW. The war and its horrors provided him with inspiration for some of his later works, such as Jellyfish Dance, thought to be a meditation on the burials at sea he had observed on board the ship transporting soldiers back to Japan.
Ohno started his career comparatively late, presenting his first recital, a joint performance with Mitsuko Ando, in 1949 in Tokyo, at the age of 43. Although not the ideal in many other dance disciplines, his wrinkled, worn body proved perfect for the Butoh expression.
Mr. Ohno remained active virtually his entire life. His last performance outside Japan was in 1999 at the Japan Society, where he presented a retrospective called “Requiem for the 20th Century”. His last Japanese performances were in 2007. Past his 100th year, he began to push himself to the most extreme expressions of Butoh and at times “danced” with his hands alone or crawled on all fours to communicate with his audience. On June 1st, 2010, at age 103, Ohno, in death, was swept back into a darkness which he express so elegantly and poetically thgroughout his life. It was written of him that his very presence was an "artistic fact".