Kazuo Ohno was an original. Anyone who has seen this Japanese artist perform, often in elaborate female dresses or naked except for briefs, will never forget his dancing.
Ohno studied with the pioneers of Japanese modern dance. In 1949 he had a late dance debut at the age of 43. His collaboration with Tatsumi Hijikata and Akira Kasai (among others) gave birth to the dance style called butoh, or “dance of utter darkness.” His reputation, however, was limited to a small circle of avant-gardists until his sensational “second debut” in 1977. With the help of Hijikata as a director, Ohno performed Admiring La Argentina, in praise of the great pioneer of Spanish dance. He began his ascent as a modern dancer, beyond the specificity of butoh.
Ohno made his first international appearance at the 1980 Theater Festival in Nancy, France. In the next two decades, with his son Yoshito as a dancer and collaborator, Ohno toured to dance venues all over the world. Although he continued to perform in Japan until 2003, Ohno’s fifth New York concert, “Requiem for the 20th Century” at Japan Society in December 1999, was his last performance outside Japan. He surprised us by sending Koma for a ham sandwich and ice cream right before the show. When an audience member asked how he calmed himself down after his performance, he answered, through my translation, “I see no reason to calm down.”
When his health started to fail, he continued to dance in a wheelchair, vigorously moving his large, expressive hands, and crawling on his knees.
His final public appearance was in January 2007 at a gala celebrating his 100th birthday.
Ohno used to say, “I will continue to dance in my grave and over the sky.”