Japan's Sankai Juku Baldly Stands Traditional Dance on Its Head—and Leaves 'em Gasping
updated 07/23/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 07/23/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Though Sankai Juku (meaning "school of mountain and sea") appears quintessentially Japanese, its style, called Buto (literally "stomping dance"), blends the avant-garde with Japanese folk dance and traditional theater, to "bring dancers back to the zero starting point," as one member explained, performers shave their heads in the manner of Buddhist priests and cover their bodies with dead-white makeup like Kabuki performers. Uncharacteristically Japanese, however, is the dancers' naked musculature and uninhibited emotional expression. "In Japan the body is considered inferior to the spirit," explains the troupe's Tokyo manager, Sachio Ichimaru, "but to Sankai Juku, body and spirit are one."
The moving force behind Sankai Juku is Ushio Amagatsu, 35, who choreographs the dances. Born in Yokosuka, the son of an electric company engineer, he studied theater, classical ballet and Martha Graham techniques and in 1975 spearheaded the formation of Sankai Juku as an independent group. Married to a French hairstylist, Amagatsu is father of a newborn daughter, Leia. The rest of the performers, ranging in age from 28 to 34, are bachelors.
"I would like people to simply blank their minds," Amagatsu has urged, "and not to see with their eyes only, but with their whole being. Unfortunately, people like only what they fully understand. But once you understand something, it becomes a thing of the mind only. It no longer touches the heart."