Anzu Furukawa: The Rite of Spring (Satis Shroff)

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             Anzu Furukawa and The Rite of Spring (Satis Shroff)

I’d often seen an outsized portrait of Anzu Furukawa in Wolfgang Graf’s home, and when we talked about Anzu and he said, “My own experience with Anzu came in 1999, during the San Francisco Buto Festival. I participated in her workshop and found her to be a good teacher, able to communicate well to her students despite the fact the her English was somewhat limited. She used humour to break the tension that so often can hamper a student from learning. That same humour was communicated in her performance of one of her most famous works, Crocodile Time.”

Anzu Furukawa was born in Tokyo in 1952. She studied in 1972-75 under professor Yoshiro Irino in the Toho-gakuen College of Music. She worked since 1973 as a choreographer, performer and scenarist in various groups in Japan and Europe on many international festivals. Among others she also worked in 1979 as a solo dancer in the Dairaku-kan buto group. An accomplished ballet dancer, modern dancer, studio pianist for ballet companies and a student of modern composition of music in addition to being both a teacher and performer of Buto dance.

In this connection it is necessary to talk about the Buto. ‘What is ‘Buto?’ you might ask.

Buto is a school of modern Japanese dance which was born at the turn of the fifties and sixties. Buto dance has also influenced the development of dance in Finland and in Europe in general.  Buto was born amid the upheavals in Japan,  in the atmosphere characterised by student revolts, performance acts and agitation prop. The founder of the school was Tatsumi Hijikata (1928-1986), who came from Northern Japan to Tokyo.  He started with violent and anarchistic dance performances, after which his relations with the official school of Japanese dance were cut off. In his later work, he created a kind of basic technique for buto, which, however, differed from Western aesthetics.  Another “first generation buto artist“ is Kazuo Ohno (1906-) who also visited Finland.

Anzu gave her debut in 1973 as a  director and choreographer with the first piece “grand conceptual opera” SALOME TALE at the German Cultural Centre in Tokyo. From 1974 till 79 she worked as a soloist in the dancer performance  Dairaruda-kan directed by Akaji Maro. She also worked with Carlotta Ikeda, Ko Muroboshi, Ushio Amagatsu.

 In 1979-86 she founded and led, together with Tetsuro Tamuro, the Dance Love Machine group. Then she founded in 1987 the Anzu Dance School in Tokyo and began solo performances in Japan and Europe. In 1987 she created many successful works such as the Anzu´s Animal Atlas, Cells of Apple, Faust II, Rent-a-body, The Detective from China, and A Diamond as big as the Ritz. From 1991 till 1997 she held University Professorship in Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste Braunschweig, Germany (schwerpunkt Performance) . She received many grants and prizes from the Goethe Institut Tokyo Contemporary music series, The Japan Foundation, Nippon Geijutsu Bunka Shinko Kikin, Afred Kordelin Foundation, The Art Council of Province of Central Finland and the Astro-Labium prize, The International Electronic Cinema Festival-Montreux, Kolner Theatre Prize

As a visiting instructor at a Finnish university, Anzu Furukawa concentrated on collaborative productions at the Helsinki City Theatre and staged works like the Rite of Spring in 1994 and the Buto works Bo (Keppi) and Shiroi mizu (Villi Vesi) in 1995 using mostly Finnish dancers. In Western Europe, most people believe that a dancer should stop performing at the top level sometime in their 40s. Due to the attitude of placing importance on the realities of the body mentioned earlier in regard to the interest in Buto, or perhaps the influence of Buto itself, many Finnish dancers still continue to perform into their 50s.

It is the presence of cross-over type activities that transcend conventional category boundaries, like the works of Uotinen that give Finnish dance its contemporary strength. There is also active collaboration with artists from other genre, especially collaborations with media artists and lighting creators. This writer has personally feels that there is a lot of beautifully created light work in Finnish dance, and it seems as if the sensitivity of the lighting art is not unrelated to a dramatic element that originates in the Finnish natural environment with the shining brightness of the midnight sun in summer, the darkness that dominates the winter and the fact that its polar proximity makes the Aurora borealis a common sight. This light-effect is brought onto the stage by no other than Mikki Kunttu, Finland’s representative lighting designer.

In the work of Saarinen mentioned at the beginning, the natural light effect designed by Mikki Kunttu helped to bring an abstract expression of the religious spirituality achieved through a life of denial of human desires that is the theme of the work.

The solo Hunt that takes Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring as its motif, is an impressive solo that brings the theme to life within the burning energy of the dance. Beginning from silence and having the body spring to life with the music, the piece proceeds to the closing stage to build as images of Marita Liulia projected on the body in a way that created a visual expression of the human body in the information age. I personally like Igor Stravinsky’s “Der Feuervögel”, the firebird very much and it is performed in many German schools. There’s a strong interest in Buto in the Finnish dance world and there are many choreographers and dancers who have studied Buto or been influenced by it. This is the result of an expansive approach to the natural world and the physical implications of the fact that the distant roots of the Finnish people who make up most of the population live in Asia. I’d say “Pippis!” to that as a South Asian.

For instance, the approach to nudity that has resulted from Finland’s sauna culture, which is an integral part of Finnish life, is completely different from that of other European countries and even its neighbour Sweden. For the Finnish, nudity is neither implicative of the taboos of sexuality or the diametrically opposed concepts of utopia but simply a natural state that is part of daily life. This fact further deepens the interest in Buto as a form of dance that examines the truths of the body, and the darker sides of life, and seeks to encompass expressions of ailment and death as a part of dance. Dance does not necessarily have to be artificial and aesthetic at all times. In contemporary times we have the Riverdance, Bollywood dancing, Bolshoi or Royal Ballet, in which the body plays a dominant role but the emphasis is on the footwork and a minimum of facial expressions that are used to display the emotions. Not so in Buto performances.

The artistic director of the previously mentioned Kuopio Dance Festival from 1993 to 98, the Asian arts researcher Jukka O. Miettinen, was one of the first to take an interest in Buto and play an active role in introducing Buto artists Carlotta Ikeda, Ko Murobushi, Kazuo Ohno, Sankaijuku and Anzu Furukawa: The festival did help establish an audience for Buto in Finnland.

Among the front-line dancers and choreographers in Finland are a number who have journeyed to Japan to study Buto.  Tero Saarinen, who performed as a dancer for the Finland National Ballet Company, before forming his own Tero Saarinen & Company, studied Buto for a year in Tokyo at the Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio. And, Arja Raatikainen and Ari Tenhula also studied under Ohno and Anzu Furukawa.

Other Buto artists who have visited and worked in Finland include Masaki Iwana, but the influence of the late Anzu Furukawa who visited Finnland numerous times. and gave many workshops, was especially strong. After performing with Dairakudakan, Furukawa formed Dance Love Machine with Tetsuro Tamura. Later she moved to Germany and continued her activities based in Europe, forming a multinational dance group called Dance Butter Tokio. The reason for her popularity was probably the wild dance theatre type composition of her works that made use of unexpected or comic twists and the exaggerated deformé type body movement that connected in some ways to German expressionist dance.

In an e-mail posted by Chikashi Furukawa, Anzu’s ‘little boy’ brother dated October 23rd you could read: “I am sorry to inform you that Anzu passed away early this morning. She had been sleeping for more than 30 hours and stopped breathing in peace with her two lovely children holding her hands. She danced at Freiburg New Dance Festival only 20 days ago. In my memory, Anzu was and is always a ‘little girl in an oversized dress’. She ran through all of us in such a hurry.”

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