We deeply regret to announce the death of one of the greatest personalities of butoh and dance art – Yoshito Ohno – son of the extraordinary Kazuo Ohno. Yoshito Ohno was born in Yokohama on 15 July 1938. He was the only person, in whose body, the history of the world’s butoh dance that transcends borders and defies any classification, has been so literally and directly stored. On the one hand, he was the son of Kazuo Ohno (1906-2010), from whose spirit he drew inspiration on a daily basis and with whom he began to learn to dance at the age of 13. On the other hand, from the moment he performed in Forbidden Colours [Kinjiki] choreographed by Tatsumi Hijikata (1928-1986), Yoshito Ohno also became his diligent student, thus becoming the heir of two fabulous butoh artists that embodied two divergent creative perspectives.
Kazuo Ohno – being Japanese and Christian – used to say that “spirit comes first when you dance” and his butoh was called luminous. For Hijikata, who was an atheist, form always came first in dance, and his butoh was called dark. Yoshito Ohno not only actively participated in the experiments of the artistic avant-garde of post-war Tokyo, but also many times had the chance to listen to the discussions of the two masters.
Chronologically, Yoshito Ohno first accompanied his father in 1959 in the stage adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea. In the same year, he danced the role of a young boy in Hijikata’s controversial adaptation of Yukio Mishima’s Forbidden Colours. In the 1960s he played significant roles in performances and happenings created by Tatsumi Hijikata.
He withdrew from performing in 1968 and returned to the stage in 1985, accompanying his father in the dance performance entitled The Dead Sea. Since then he has directed all of his father’s productions, including Water Lillies (1987) and Flower-Birds-Wind-Moon (1990). In the mid-1990s he began his solo career, dancing, among others, the Last Portrait of Dorian Gray, inspired by the novel by Oskar Wilde. He collaborated with Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers Julia Anne Stanzak and Eddie Martinez in The Promissing Morning (2010), Antony and the Johnsons (Antony and the Ohnos, 2013). He also created Flower and Bird presented in various countries all over the world. He is the author of the book Kazuo Ohno: Food for the Soul (Film Art Sha, 1999) that became part of two books translated into Polish in 2014 – Świat butoh Kazuo Ohno and Butoh: sposób życia (originally published in English as Butoh: A Way of Life, Canta Co.Ltd, 2015). Simultaneously to his artistic activity, Yoshito Ohno he was also involved in education, conducting regular butoh classes and workshops in Japan (in Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio) and all over the world.
Yoshito Ohno visited Poland twice – in 1994, together with his father, Kazuo Ohno, Yoshito was invited by Janusz Marek (curator) to present Water Lilies within the framework of the 1. International Meetings with Art of Action “Rozdroże” in Warsaw (currently known as the International Festival of Performing Arts. CROSSROADS). His second visit to Poland took place many years later at the invitation of Anita Zdrojewska and Pompka Foundation led by her. In the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, on the stage of the Studio Theatre, Yoshito Ohno presented Flower and Bird. The performance consisted of several scenes-images evoking choreographies by Tatsumi Hijikata, accompanied by atmospheric music and video projection created by the outstanding Japanese photographer Eikoh Hosoe. Yoshito Ohno’s performance was accompanied by the exhibition entitled Butoh at it’s Source, an open meeting with Yoshito-san and workshops conducted by him. Flower and Bird was also presented in Cracow, where the artist also conducted workshops (in the Museum of Japanese Art and Technology “Manggha”, and in Poznań (in Stary Browar/Old Brewery – Art Stations Foundation).
In 2014, the Pompka Foundation, in co-operation with the Institute of Music and Dance, published the book Świat butoh Kazuo Ohno (Kazuo Ohno’s World of Butoh). The book consists of two parts that were published independently in Japan – one of them is authored by Yoshito Ohno, and it is a story of a son talking about his father while looking at the photos; the other part is authored by Kazuo Ohno, and it is a record of his workshop words. Both of them gained literary value thanks to the outstanding translation by Iga Rutkowska.
Yoshito Ohno passed away on 8 January 2020. He will remain one of the most important creators and promoters of butoh in the memory of it’s admirers all over the world.
The article was written on the basis of Pompka Foundation’s press materials.