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butoh[Jap.,=dance of darkness], avant-garde dance form developed in post–World War II Japan. First performed in 1959 by the dancers Tatsumi Hijikata (1928–86) and Kazuo Ohno (1906–2010), butoh became widespread in Japan during the 1960s. Abstract and expressive, it is implicitly related to the atomic bomb and thematically often centers around destruction and creation, apocalypse and rebirth. Typically, its movements are at times very graceful, at times quite grotesque. While there is no one style of butoh, the form often has certain characteristics: allover body paint, typically white but sometimes gold, silver or another color; shaved heads; and movement that is extremely controlled, often very slow, and imagistic rather than narrative in character. Butoh is performed by groups and soloists, the costuming runs from the elaborate to near nudity, and the music is usually contemporary, frequently electronic. Butoh grew in popularity during the 1980s and by the early 21st cent. there were performers, troupes, and festivals worldwide. Perhaps the best-known contemporary group is the Paris-based Japanese company Sankai Juku.
See studies by J. Viala and N. Masson-Sekine (1988), S. B. Klein (1989), S. H. Fraleigh (1999), K. Ohno (2004), and S. Horton (2006).