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Monday, October 12, 2015

In Context: Umusuna: Memories Before History

Japanese Butoh troupe Sankai Juku comes to BAM October 28—31 with Umusuna: Memories Before History. Context is everything, so get even closer to the production with this curated selection of articles and videos related to the show. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought below and by posting on social media using #SankaiJuku.

Program Notes

Umusuna: Memories Before History (PDF)


Survey: Umusuna: Memories Before History
The Japan Foundation is interested in hearing what you thought of Sankai Juku's performance, which is supported in part by their PAJ (Performing Arts Japan) program. Thank you in advance for your time to answer their questions.


Sankai Juku: Cosmic Dance (BAM Blog)
Butoh dancers are “bodies that have maintained the crisis of primal experience.”

A Conversation with Ushio Amagatsu (
The Sankai Juku founder discusses the elemental nature of Umusuna, the function of white paint in Butoh, and more.

Butoh: Dance of Darkness (New York Times)
“[Butoh replaced] the conventional Japanese social mask of reticence and understatement with one of anguish and even terror.”

Watch & Listen

Excerpts from Tobari (YouTube)
Watch Sankai Juku in these clips from their 2008 film.

Worthwhile Words

“The individual is an existence that has a beginning and an end. Although the individual itself is discontinuous, outside your body there is a continuity that flows like a river. In other words, it is discontinuity enveloped in continuity. So, we have both elements within us, and I hope to express the idea of eternity as a core theme of my entire work.”—Sankai Juku founder Ushio Amagatsu

Now your turn...

What did you think? How would you describe Sankai Juku’s peculiar mixture of beauty and the grotesque? Tell us what's on your mind in the comments below and on social media using #SankaiJuku.


  1. Amazing. Stunningly beautiful. The height of art. Every dancer, every move - gorgeous. Thank you to Sankai Juku. More please.

  2. Amazing! Intensely moving and beautiful...

  3. Stunning visuals and impeccable in every way, each step and gesture. I am still feeling a state of mesmerizing immersion into their world.

  4. This performance was one of those amazing BAM nights -- I bought the ticket as part of my subscription months ago, I didn't remember the reason I bought the ticket or even what the performance would be, and I show up at the Opera House and I'm wonderfully surprised and completely blown away. I was enthralled for the entire 90 minutes ... the makeup and costumes, the sand, the lighting, the staging ... the dancing!!!! BAM -- this is why I love you...

  5. Very moving and impressive. A once in a life time experience of being transport back to the basic existence of being......flowing......floating...... Absolutely stunning. I am glad to have seen it.

  6. Very moving and impressive. A once in a life time experience of being transport back to the basic existence of being......flowing......floating...... Absolutely stunning. I am glad to have seen it.

  7. To me, it was very dissapointing. I am not a Butoh expert nor invetigator, but I have been an Art student from more that a decade Now. To me the sound was another piece. It was so over the place it was unbearable to look at the dancers. It was a recorded sound of sonaos, wind, sand, it was a mess. If there was an orchestra it could have been different, but even at the end, where most people stood up and clap, the sounds of the piece where still on. How come should I abstract myself to movement, image, and real time and materiality to a recorded sound of wind. It was a real lie to me. I dientes believe it at all. The dancers were worried about getting the right tempos of the sounds, that ony stop pes for a few seconds during all the performance. I think It was a mistake so big, that all the other amazing things the piece had never get along to come as an emotion. Really dissapointing.

  8. We found it mesmerizing. The staging and lighting were quite stunning. And the dance itself quite allegorical, tho you wouldn't say that it was particularly subtle in presenting themes of transition, change life discovery evolution and devolution. But that actually charmingly made the dance itself more accessible and welcoming to the viewers. The music was quite good and at times very lyrical and moving. atonic or weather related sections of music seem to be filled with static and cotton like obscurity. We couldn't be sure if that was by intention or a poor presentation of the audio. A few segments were a trifle long. But altogether we would say it was a minor tour de force. We are very pleased to have seen it

  9. Hi BAM, back of the mezzanine here. The seating of the latecomers was a mess tonight and very much disrupted the show for me. You seem to think that it's okay if you do it at a time when the music gets louder but that's not always true - I really wanted to focus on that particular dance and it got ruined for me because of the sudden torrent of latecomers. Why do you sacrifice the enjoyment of those of us who do the right thing and show up on time in order to accommodate those who arrive after the performance has begun? This happens almost every show I see there. Please consider a policy that will instead accommodate those of us who arrive on time and sacrifice the latecomers. Also, to the latercomer couple in the back who kept talking and flashing their phones throughout the entire show tonight, you are unbelievably rude and should have been bounced.

  10. As someone who has seen and followed the company since their first appearance in the US and Paris, I was excited to see how Amagatsu has expanded the gestural vocabulary and tempos of his choreography, giving Butoh a contemporary voice. Every cell of each dancer seems to speak as each man creates motion through the expression of his own visceral landscape. And the staging and lighting of the work was as poetic as always, sculpting the space and dancers to portray a remarkable three dimensional atmosphere that lingered— and continues to linger— in my mind long after I had left the theatre. Please bring Sankai Juku back to BAM more often. PS: The review in the NY Times wasn't criticism, just a pile of thrown stones.


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