Dancing for devastation

Subbody Butoh dancers perform cerebral Japanese dance form to honor victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

by Robert Larson

About three years ago, Gadu Fukasawa Schmitz discovered what devastation sounds like.

“I turned on the TV, and there was this crazy news about a tsunami hitting Japan,” Schmitz said. “It’s amazing how fragile everything is. A wave comes and crushes houses like papier-mâché. The sound of that is just incredible, that force of nature.”

Schmitz moved to the U.S. from the Yamanashi Prefecture of Japan in 1989. After studying aerospace engineering at the University of Minnesota, he worked with an Indian dance company for 10 years. In 2007, he traveled to India for the first time to train in Subbody Butoh, a form of Japanese dance that uses unusual and often strenuous movements to explore the limits of the human body.

“The first thing we learn from our parents is not to move this way, or not to make this noise. There’s a social pressure to confine our body to a certain way,” Schmitz said. “There’s no real form in Subbody Butoh. It’s a process to open up your body and open up your mind.”

Subbody Butoh is practiced through “conditioning,” a form of guided meditation.

“We calm down and get ready to explore very subtle sensations in our body,” Schmitz said. “We have different exercises to open up certain parts of our body or tune into certain emotions or memories.”

Dancer Dustin Maxwell said he often describes it as “being danced, rather than dancing.”

Schmitz teaches Subbody Butoh at Heart of Tao Resonance Art. He recruited Maxwell for “Fu-Ku-Shi-Ma,” a show this weekend in Minneapolis, through his dance workshops.

“Fu-Ku-Shi-Ma” features Schmitz, Maxwell and Masanari Kawahara. The performance will honor the victims of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Tohoku earthquake was the fourth most powerful earthquake recorded since 1990. It triggered 128-foot-high waves and caused the meltdown of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

“When I started doing this performance, I wanted to do something about what happened,” Schmitz said. “It just woke me up. I was really stunned by it.”

Schmitz started doing research for the show when he got involved in fundraisers to help the victims of the disaster.

“I talked to a few people about what their experience was during the disaster and afterward,” Schmitz said. “I was naïve to think that the Japanese government actually takes care of people. But the government wasn’t really doing much. Considering all that toxic waste is going east through the Pacific Ocean and some of it is already arriving on the California coast, it’s not just about Japan anymore. It’s a global problem.”

“Fu-Ku-Shi-Ma” will encapsulate the devastation of the disaster through a meditative performance. Schmitz will demonstrate superior command of those conflicting emotions.

“One thing I appreciate about Gadu is that he comes from a really compassionate place. He’s very light and very kind,” Maxwell said. “But he also is able to pull out this darker stuff from him. I like the darkness and the lightness of him.”


What: Fu-Ku-Shi-Ma

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: The Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts. 528 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis

Cost: Free