Noguchi & Contact Improvisation

June 15, 2021

Several years it has been since I have taken a movement class in something other than butoh or Noguchi taiso. Here at Gomarduli Zen Garden with its variety of movement practice offerings, I have been able to revisit movement practices of my past with fresh eyes such as Contemporary dance, contact improvisation (CI), and even yoga.

Being reintroduced, I could not help but to open an investigation in how butoh and Noguchi taiso could accompany or even possibly enhance at times these practices. Other disciplines can serve to inspire new visions for a dominant discipline. In my case, Butoh and Noguchi are my dominant disciplines.

Today in Otto Akkanen’s CI class, we entered into a water body that emphasized the least amount of muscular effort needed to move with a partner. Curiously, this concept of the water body is at the very core of the Noguchi practice. This is a Japanese movement technique that focuses on the body as a “water bag” with muscles acting as sensors.

As noted in my butoh manual, “Noguchi Taiso is one such movement discipline that serves to evoke the effortless body by drawing upon fluidity (water), gravity, and strings. Gravity is not fought against, but embraced.” (Koan)

Noguchi has been adopted as a body conditioning supplement for many butoh dancers. One reason may be due to the Noguchi body itself which can resemble the weakened, sleepy or “dead” body that the butoh dancer often dances. Another reason may be that the Noguchi philosophy is about allowing for maximum (or nearly maximum) receptivity of external influences. In both Noguchi and butoh, the dancer is actually being danced or “moved” instead of the mover doing the moving.

Four notable butoh artists with a base in Noguchi for instance include Yumiko Yoshioka, Imre Thormann, Minako Seki, and my mentor Julie Becton Gillum.

In the case of CI, I observe that quite a bit of muscle movement is often used (especially large, external muscles). As Otto apparently realized, the water body is one way to increase movement efficiency. Who doesn’t want to be a more efficient mover? Who doesn’t seek more flow?

So Noguchi (and butoh) could add a nice touch to CI, but it does not have to be limited to only that. I see endless potential in anything regarding movement, even everyday life movement.

Butoh has often utilized duet and group work in close proximity or close contact. Noguchi however has always been more of a solo practice, but finding ways to duet or group work Noguchi could prove useful.

As I continue to integrate Noguchi and butoh into other movement practices, the more discoveries will for sure be made.

Koan, Adam. Shadowbody Butoh Manual. Shadowbody. 2021.