Kazuo Ohno, who brought the Japanese modern dance style of Butoh to the international stage and charmed audiences with eerie but poetic performances, has died. He was 103.
Ohno was credited along with Tatsumi Hijikata as a founder of Butoh — a dance form characterized by slow movements executed in a low crouched stance and often performed in whiteface. He died Tuesday in Tokyo of respiratory failure, Japanese media reports said.
Ohno was one of the chief players in the formative years of Butoh, starting in the late 1950s. Butoh is now studied all over the world.
Among Ohno's signature pieces was "Admiring La Argentina," a solo originally directed by Hijikata in which Ohno pays homage to and impersonates Spanish dancer Antonia Merce, whom Ohno saw as a student and deeply admired.
Over the years, Ohno has influenced every Butoh performer, including the U.S.-based Eiko and Koma, a pair of dancers who studied with Ohno at his Yokohama studio.
"He was a miraculously extraordinary dancer who taught us the lesson that existence is a fragile state of nonexistence," said Akaji Maro, leader of the Tokyo-based dance troupe Dairakudakan. "May he continue to shed light as a spiritual guardian for all young Butoh dancers."
Unlike Hijikata's performances, dominated by themes of violence and defiance, Ohno's messages in his dance were gently whimsical but equally provocative and daring in raising questions about definitions of beauty and death.
Ohno was born Oct. 27, 1906, on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, a son of a fisherman. He began to study dance after graduating from college in the 1930s, including under Japanese modern dancer Baku Ishii.
Ohno was active in his 70s and 80s, performing in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. He remained determined to perform even in his 90s, so that he "danced" seated in a chair.
Wearing long dresses and fancy hats, sometimes a tattered kimono, Ohno appeared on stage, often curling his body, contorting his face and bending his arms crookedly.
Yet, at the same time, he would transform into a graceful, eternally beautiful woman in the essence of his statements and otherworldly presence.
He is survived by his son, dancer and collaborator Yoshito Ohno; another son, Yukito Nagatani; his brother, Masao Ohno; two sisters, Sachi Shigeno and Fujiko Ohbe; and three grandsons, according to his dance studio office.