Last night I saw Juju Alishina perform Red Night in Stroud, a mesmerising and compelling evening, with three contrasting pieces showcasing different aspects of Alishina’s style. First, a mysterious creature, in textured layers of kimono, looked out at the world from beneath a red veil, tasting the elements with her tongue. This was a wonderful play of power and rebellion, a dark liturgy mixing the religious fervour of a demented nun with the sweeping turbulence of a torrent of water. Next, Alishina transformed into a dynamic martial figure, a Japanese anime heroine, moving with direct impactive choreography to an impressionistic soundtrack of Japanese street sounds. Viol player Thol Mason brought frisson to the final piece, Desire for Infinity, in which Alishina’s red dress and a white sculptural costume conjured up images of sea life, the moon and the goddess: the frills of a cuttlefish and the clouds of heaven. Alishina created starkly beautiful images, moving with elegant precision and flow, leaving a feeling of an encounter with some beautiful profound inner truth.
Alishina’s book Butoh Dance Training is a welcome addition to the butoh library, offering a uniquely accessible handbook of exercises. It cannot make you a butoh dancer but it can give you an exercise routine that will help. Butoh Dance Training takes a very practical pragmatic approach to butoh, which will not appeal to butoh romantics who prefer the ethereal. Alishina’s thesis is that through adherence to these exercises a deeper world of expression can be reached. Her book is perhaps the most ‘conscious’ I have read, as she demystifies the physical work involved in becoming able to dance butoh. Broken into sections dealing with body training, energy (Qi) and improvisation, and a final part that considers the application of these to performance, the book is a useful handbook for teachers and students alike. Of course, part of the appeal of butoh for many is that you do not have to be a dancer or Olympic athlete to do it. Alishina says at the end of her book: ‘You will have noticed that this book deals with expression techniques but does not deal extensively with content. This is because content cannot be learned at school or through a book; it can only be acquired through a lifetime.’ Butoh Dance Training is a refreshingly honest and direct book on butoh method. If you are looking for the secret of how to create mesmerising choreography you might be disappointed but, as she says, no one can teach you that other than your life.
A workshop with Juju Alishina is a chance to understand classical butoh aesthetic experientially through exploring forms and choreography. Butoh can be free and impressionistic but this is not Alishina’s butoh. Exacting exercises test the body and challenge the mind in a balance of individual, pair and group exercises, with an opportunity to perform her choreography and improvise within parameters that support an authentic and valuable learning experience.
Juju Alishina, born in 1963, trained in traditional Japanese dance before joining uncompromising Kansai-based butoh company Byakkosha when she was 19. Alishina moved to Tokyo and founded her own company NUBA before relocating to Paris in 1998, where she developed her own teaching of traditional and contemporary dance.
Juju Alishina offers weekly classes in Paris.