articles translated

Selected articles translated into English

Note: These texts may be read and quoted but they may not be published
and/or spread as a whole witout the permission from the originators.

These texts may be read and quoted but they may not be published
and/or spread as a whole witout the permission from the originators.

Written by: Anna Ångström
Published in: Svenska dagbladet, September 29, 2008
Original title: En utflippad hönsanarki
Translation from Swedish:© SU-EN Butoh Company

Anarchistic Chicken cabaret
Dance for children



Hens are capable of more than cackling and laying eggs. Dancing for instance. And when you dance you get happy and then everything becomes more ecological! This is a conclusion that indeed should be spread outside this chicken-house currently located in the basement of Zebradans in Renstiernas gata 48, Stockholm.

Here SU-EN Butoh Company offers a twisted Chicken cabaret for children from five years and older. But everybody who needs some crazy glamour decorated with plumes, and want to escape from mental enclosures should really see this. When the chicken keeper Lasse (Liljegren, also light designer) closes the chicken-house for the night, he thinks that the chicken go to sleep. But instead a cackling cabaret breaks loose, lead by the charming confrencier SU-EN. In her feather outfit and red gloves, she is both a diva and a chicken mummy of five rowdy, featherd girls.

Jens Carlsson´s electronic rythms inspire the chicken who dance around to both hip swaying mambo and cool street-dance moves. In the world of chicken, Folie Bergère can meet hiphop. Anna Bralkowska, Lina Palmgren, Frida Larsson, Ira Anufryieva and Marie Gavois are sensless in the illusion as glaring chicken through dedicated artistry. When the heat goes up, they pass out or create tumult.

Also the costumes are funny: mountains of exotic fruit and cool caps are put onto modest hats and costumes. Bird, human or inbetween?

SU-EN (Susanna Åkerlund) is one of Sweden´s foremost butoh dancers. After many years of studying in Japan, she formed her own group which has its base outside Uppsala. One of the company’s projects, is The Chicken Project, a series of chicken studies which has resulted in an instruction video inspired by Jane Fonda, where you can learn, step by step, how to become a chicken. SU-EN´s subtle humour is now coming to full bloom in this her first piece for children. Sprätt Hönskabaret is crazy, full-fledged entertainment with an anarchistic undertone - half an our of pure happiness to carry with us.


Written by: Cecilia Olsson
Published in: Dagens Nyheter, 5 April, 2008
Original title: Särpräglad buto från SU-EN
Translation from swedish: © SU-EN Butoh Company

Remarkable butoh from SU-EN


In one corner of the stage a bunch of wild water melons is placed. The strong red colour of their inside looks like a gushing flood frozen in the middle of a breaking wave. They form a beautiful and mysterious symbol of SU-EN Butoh Company’s latest performance ”Cracks”. The choreographer SU-EN, who has studied with the legend Yoko Ashikawa, has developed a highly individual and personal interpretation of the Japanese butoh. ”Cracks” offeres condensed moments and images of unity and disruption, which persistently merges in and out of each other.

Along the spines of the female dancers a grey-white stripe is painted; a life-line or perhaps a crack, between life and death, between what keeps us together and what splits us apart. In this excavation of the human inside and outside, all senses are tried out. The sometimes captivating, sometimes attacking sensations and expressions are twisted, turned and distorted.

Lee Berwicks recycled, found sounds and ”noise” appears like an invisible membrane and strongly contributes to the emerging cracks in time and space. In this imaginary scenery Joanna Bodzek’s colourful costumes and Svante W Monie’s light adds further layers to the reality and imaginative worlds of beauty and cruelty. The relation of what we see and what we know can hardly be clearer than this.

The dynamics and shifts charges the meaning of gesture and movement and with same clarity we see how fundamental the body is a subject to cathegorizing and hierarchies. Like using a sharp stroke of a brush, ideas of human aesthetics, form and expression is pictured as limiting our human habitat. How quickly just a tiny small ”divergence” opens up for infinite possibilities of marginalisations.

It takes time to find the depth of SU-EN’s aesthetics and technique. This is visible mainly in the last part. SU-EN’s own intensity, concentration and richness of details, is something that the other dancers sometimes have yet to reach - it appears like they get stuck in an image or a pose - or are they just the expression for the unavoidable cracks of existance.


Written by: Anna Ångström
Published in: Svenska Dagbladet, 5 April, 2008
Original title: Både obehag och skönhet
Translation from swedish: © SU-EN Butoh Company

Both discomfort and beauty

Dansens hus


Three smashed water melons catches my eyes in the sand-coloured room. The red pulp is shining in the light, tempting with almost erotic tension. This is how real vital force looks like; some species can survive in the desert despite lack of water. For humans it is harder.

SU-EN Butoh Company, based outside Uppsala, has developed a highly specific dance-style with roots in Japanese butoh. The leader SU-EN (Susanna Åkerlund) has performed in provokative solos and conceptual pieces in sitespecific locations but also created ensemble pieces where the feminine aspects colours the transformations.

Fragrant (2005) was an intoxicating experience of beauty; a cycle that ended in a firework of flowers. The new piece Cracks is going the opposite way, towards perishability, decay and the sense that life is a dreamy hallucination. In the beginning the dancers appear like crouching creatures only dressed in dry ribs, like a mirror of the sterile surroundings. They economize their strength through minimal movement, sliding, tipping over.

In Joanna Bodzek’s costumes they transform into colorful, tender flowers, put in a row like on a catwalk. Lee Berwick’s subtle sound changes into heavy drum’n’bass that spurs the figures into to human form in self-reflecting spirals. But the beauty is condemned to destroy itself. With a bizarre brutality the bodies collide and collapse.

Only SU-EN is in her animallike four-legged figure a surviver, even with the absurd attacks of itches. Instinctively she moves closer to the light, exposes the upper part of the body and slowly washes herself in her saliva - a beautiful cleansing ritual. In the final part the figures moves in a sleep walking state like demons. Time stops.

Cracks contains both discomfort and beauty. It can be interpreted as a picture of our civilization where humanity lingers in confusion on a planet more and more ready to burst. But that would be to dimminish it. Butoh can be seen as a subversive movement, an attempt to move away from materialistic ideals and superficiality. The unpersonified body expresses an existential, ever-changing condition rather than the individual. The body is the world, where every form is meant to be wiped out to give space to a new one.

As a spectator you may defend yourself against the ritual aspect, but because the dancers succeed in making the grotesque expression their own, senses opens up for other dimensions.


Written by: Anna Ångström
Published in: Svenska Dagbladet - Kultur, April 30, 2005
Original title: Erotisk buto berusar
Translation from Swedish: SU-EN Butoh Company

Erotic buto intoxicates

Moderna Dansteatern
Choreography, concept, dance: SU-EN Butoh Company

Beauty, dispair and forbidden knowledge are the subheadings of SU-ENs latest piece for 7 female dancers.

In the piece we are not only pulled into magic, splendid and fragrant garden that the japanese flower artist Junichi kakizaki fills with fresh flowers during the performance. SU-EN also invites us to the historic aspects of Tatsumi Hijikata's choreography for SU-ENs teacher Yoko Ashikawa in post-war Japan 1976.

Hijikata's dance was inspired by the bodies of farmers, old people, prostitutes and even his handicapped sister. His work was full of eroticism, sexuality, death and arcaic pulse.

The butoh shows cruelly beautiful acts of transformation: a circle of life and death where the ego of the dancer is erased and the invisible forces of existence become visible. Carlotta Ikeda's group Ariadone is perhaps the most famous female ensemble which lately has started to research in a more cross-cultural way.

Fragrant moves in the opposite direction: the classical. SU-EN, the most experienced butoh artist in Sweden, present in this piece - after the provocative solo pieces Headless and Slice - her skills in the feminine erotic aspects of the dance form. In the beginning, she is reborn, wearing only flowers in a nest. This Sleeping Beauty is painfully transformed into a woman and a being with spiraling arms and teasing tounge: just like snake seducing us in paradise.
The six well-instructed dancers, move like geisha-like female demons in lavendel and pink, in a slow, floating and dream-like way. They also move like more grotesque and comical genderless creatures, crouching with claws and in white make up.

SU-ENs dance also gives us associations to the american modernism, when she like a sculptural Martha Graham, her hair tight back, seem to unite the juice of the earth and the air of the sky.

In her tight costume, she is both a poetic image and a sexy woman, a challanging, mocking and sensuell nature force. The way she controls the body in stillness is amazing. In the stillness the hands are suddenly visible as a flower, its petals falling down on the ground.

Lee Berwick's music charges this landscape with minimalistic consistency. Trembling beauty grows into a pulse and fades away into darkness. After SU-EN has disappeared into darkness, a red explosion of flowers are visible. The tree at the entrance, bare before, now contains big white flowers. The heavy scent of these flowers is a promise of new life. I stumble out into the spring evening intoxicated by beauty.


Örjan Abrahamsson
Published in Dagens Nyheter - Kultur, April 29, 2005
Original title: Dans i ett hav av blommor. Förförande, bedårande och lite äckligt.
Translation from Swedish: Christel Törnros

Dance in a sea of flowers
Seducing, enchanting and somewhat disgusting

Venue: Moderna Dansteatern, Stockholm

A seductive and aggressive scent of lilies hits the audience already before the light is turned on and the birth of a body is visible on the stage of Moderna Dansteatern. A flower artist decorates butoh dancer SU-EN with flowers, as if her body was a dead object transforming into a living, scented piece of art.

The choreographer and dancer SU-EN takes on one of art history's most beloved death motive, dazzling flowers, as starting point in her new butoh performance Fragrant. The modern Japanese butoh dance, the dance of darkness, circles around death, disgust, suffering and pain, often performed with an absurd, grotesque twist.

Swedish dancer SU-EN holds on to tradition but adds more irony and classical beauty in Fragrant in comparison with her previous dark performances, Headless and Slice.

The tempo is still and low-intense, like a flickering candlelight, even if the female dancers occasionally invite us to a frisky and mocking dance. The main dancer of the one-hour long drama is naturally the splendidly precise, delightfully ugly and horrifyingly gorgeous SU-EN. However, she is well supported by the six other female butoh dancers. The level of the dance company has increased considerably during the recent years.

Fragrant is a performance rich in images and associations, enchanting and disgusting at the same time.

The flower metaphore which is central to the piece, also leads into the feministic debate. However, SU-EN knows that it is not an exclusive right to women only to be at the same time ugly, beautiful, body, thought, ready to vomit, shimmering, sexy, quiet. After all, all flowers shall wither and die.


Written by: Margareta Sörenson
Published in: Expressen, April 28, 2005
Original title: Blommande buto
Translation from Swedish: SU-EN Butoh Company

Blooming butoh

SU-EN Butoh Company at Moderna Dansteatern (7 dancers) Stockholm

The Swedish buto artist SU-EN has her training with a Japanese butoh group for five years. Back in Sweden, she has during the 90-ties established her own buto-profile with solo work and choreographies for ensemble. The dissected fish in Gustavianum last year cannot easily be forgotten.

She presents a feministic initiative with the new performance Fragrant - beauty, despair and forbidden knowledge. Together with flower artist Junichi Kakizaki she has created a piece, readable like a flower alphabeth, about the woman seen by herself.

The story of biblical Lilith, she who did not want to surrender to Adam's will and left Eden, is woven together with eastern mythologies about female demons, often in the shape of a snake. Just like the snake in paradise who tempted Eve to taste the forbidden fruit.

SU-EN, her body covered in white make up, in a nest of twigs, dances a self-reflecting image of womanhood. Ugliness and the grotesque come together with timeless beauty, body with mind. Six female dancers emerge from darkness, dancing in twisted stillness like statues in the space between icon and human.

An outstretched tounge, a quiet scream, dry white skin - the images are subtle but strong. Angry lilies, peonies willingly welcoming, placed in hair, armpits, between legs.

Strangely mythological light design (Rosula Blanc) and discrete sound worlds (Lee Berwick) embrace the more than one hour long process which takes us to the center point of the bodily aesthetics. It is beautiful. Complex in meaning, still with spaces to sense a distant irony and a few drops of humour. 


Örjan Abrahamsson
Published in Dagens Nyheter - Kultur, October 5, 2003
Translation from Swedish: Catrine Berlin

Dissection worth seeing
Not as disgusting as you may think


Venue: Kilen, Kulturhuset, Stockholm

Anatomical dissections are, for obvious reasons, not part of the most common themes in Swedish dance culture. Blood, butcher's hooks, meat pieces and maggots probably make most people rather run from, than to a performance such as "Slice - a visceral dissection", performed at Kilen, the Arts Centre in Stockholm. Choreographer and dancer SU-EN is as far as can be from most of what we are used to see in Swedish art performances, mentally and even more physically. Her body has been trained in Japan, developed in the dicipline butoh, the dance of darkness. Her interests rather touch upon the body art of the art world, with the difference that SU-EN, only incidentally provokes and maybe chocks.

The one hour long "SLICE" is connected with last year's brilliant performance "Headless" - both created through an intimate collaboration with the sound artist Lee Berwick - but is by comparison less concentrated and important. Strong, worth seeing and also less disgusting than you may think. The solo starts with a ten minute sequence of a completely still position, which is obtained by a fascinating paradox; a still position through minimal, almost invisible movement.

Few dancers master this paradox better than SU-EN.


Anna Ångström
Published in Svenska Dagbladet - Kultur, October 4, 2003
Translation from Swedish: Catrine Berlin



Venue: Kulturhuset, Kilen, in Stockholm
Choreography, dance, room, costumes: SU-EN
Music: Lee Berwick
Video: Rickard Sporrong, SU-EN
Light: Svante Wärnsberg

"Slice" it not a thing to see for those who are easily disgusted. We here meet a bloody female torsoe which is breathing. Above this projection a shadow is cast from a butcher's hook dangling in the middle of the stage. Vague sounds of cutting. Maggots in a landscape of meat pieces.

The video pictures and sounds create a strong visual room for the Butoh-performer SU-EN's (Susanna Åkerlund's) new solo performance "Slice - a visceral dissection". The theme is connected with her previous solo "Headless - love on the other side" with regards to its expressionistic displacement of life and death, the desires of the flesh and the dissolvant mortality of it.

A cycle is described but also a journey from the outside in, inside out, which frightfully dissects a female body like a piece of meat at a slaughter's block. One cannot avoid associating it with a recent murder of a secretary of state or, more commonly, the exploitation and violation of women's bodies.

But SU-EN first shows up as an almost still figure, dressed in white, who's twin-shadow is growing on the wall. With her hands she makes incisions over her body, carefully slicing the arms and stomach, listening to the vibrations under the skin.

To a pounding sound she suddenly jumps like a fish - a fallo connection. In the next sequence she is hanging from the hook, dressed in a thin gown; the arms letting her body relax, but she also looks like a crucified. She falls down with her limbs sprawling. The dissolved figure is transformed into a gaping child, eagerly biting after its tows, a warrier, an animal or a featus. This sequence contains the butoh paradox of cruel beaty and grotesque humour, but looses some of its thrills when SU-EN grabs a knife on the floor and starts to pull it over her legs and then from her genitals up to the abdomen. After yet another video sequence with skin and breasts in extreme close up and crawling maggots, the circle is complete. SU-EN's figure, dressed in white, slowly advances from the other side of the stage, reborn to die, captured by its flesh.

"Slice" shows SU-EN's ability to very skillfully control slow movements. Sometimes her expressions reach a touching nakedness and charged ambivalence. As a whole, though, this visceral dissection leaves a visual resonance of overexplicitness and, to some extent, repetition.


Anna Ångström
Published in Svenska Dagbladet, Sunday September 29, 2002
Translation: Lee Berwick/SU-EN

Cruel and beautiful solo dance

Venue: Moderna Dansteatern, Stockholm
Piece: Headless - love on the other side
Dance and choreography: SU-EN
Music: Lee Berwick

Butoh: The expressive danceform that developed in Japan after the second world war was a reaction to that times modernism and can today appear in
various aestetic expressions. Some main themes seem to continually recur - violence, erotisicm and a focus on the body in slow transformation.

All this is in the SU-EN's solo "Headless - Love on the other side". SU-EN has studied Butoh for many years and gives here a concentrated taste of her development as an artist in recent years.

The piece starts from a kind of zero point where the body - naked apart from short red pants and a red shawl covering the head - resembles a beating heart. Her body is bent over a bulb which lights up parts of the legs, arms and a nodding head, creating a remarkable and strange illusion. The stage is dominated by a hanging globe thats reminds us of a brain or embryo. Under this is soil and Suen cleanses herself with it and gradually becomes human. In collaboration with sound and light the body is transformed from muscle to woman. Between the spastic jumps and crawling transportations there is control - The impression becomes grotesque and comic but also horrific when she kneels with her arms behind her and the proud coverd head reminds us of a prisoner before execution.

The electrified sound carpet shifts from irregular heart beats to breaths. Then SU-EN uncovers her face and with half closed eyes, puts on a dress. Next moving incredibly slowly in the room with hands that extend outwards she caress's her own body, senuous in the red light you breathe with her and suddenly she stands in front of us and bites chunks of her own flesh away. In a moment beauty and pain is united - Love as cannibalism , Life and death go full circle. One Headless condition passes by - cruelly beautiful.


Örjan Abrahamsson
Published in Dagens Nyheter, Sunday September 29, 2002
Translation: Lee Berwick/SU-EN

Butoh, the dance of darkness

Venue: Moderna Dansteatern, Stockholm
Piece: Headless - love on the other side
Dance and choreography: SU-EN
Music: Lee Berwick

The butoh is black as the night when SU-EN performs headless at the Modern dance theatre. Half the performance is danced in near darkness since she has coverd her face with a red cloth and therefore sees nothing. It is hardcore butoh which ties and links back to its German expressionistic roots but which carries a clearly distinct personal expression. It is brutal and sculpturally twisted with a hint of the comic - fascinatingly ugly and etherially beautiful.

SU-EN has matured to become an artist of importance, Headless is breathlessly complete in this precise collaboration with Lee Berwick's interactive soundscape, Do not miss this shimmering black pearl ! Performance tonight and tommorrow.


Suzana Marjanic
Published in Zarez 19/7 2001
Translation from Croatian: SU-EN Butoh Company


Last year at the International Theatre Fesival PUF, SU-EN, dancer and choreographer of the 3rd generation of Butohdance Art, was questioning the melting point between the body and the extended hand. In this year's performance, "Headless - love on the other side", she has replaced last years' white colour with red; which together with gold, silver, white and black are characteristic colours of butoh.

In the first part of the performance, her head is wrapped in a red scarf. She wears red short pants, and her skin is naked. She was performing the birth of a great mind on a headless body. Fritjof Capra says that in ancient society's civilizatons, there was an opposition between body and soul. Today, the main difference is between body and mind.

There was a hanging metal installation on stage, in the shape of a floating head. Under it was a circle filled with mud. Parallell to the installation was SU-EN, in the position of a fetus over a light bulb on the floor. This was the main source of light during the first part. Around it, SU-EN's body was transformed, moving into different positions, but always like a fetus; crawling. In the background a huge shadow of her body was projected. Hands are shaped into fists, changing her body into something animal like, natural and free.

SU-EN defines her own butoh technique as a point where body and time melt together. Before the moment of mind's birth, the Headless body, still wrapped in red is banging forward and backward to the rythm of a heartbeat. She crawls to the metal installation of the floating head where she covers her body with mud - the source of life. The awakening of the body follows, accompanied by animal voices and sounds. Parallell to the story of the transformation of Headless body into rational body goes the story about the dancer's work with the body, in terms of timing, shaping and positioning the body parts.

In the moment of the shaping of the mind, SU-EN takes off her red scarf and puts on a red dress. This indicates the last part, which is composed mainly of the stretching out of arms and red lights on stage. The song "Love on the other side" is played in the end. Body movements are minimalistic, including the play with eyelashes. She expresses the state between life and death. In the moment of awakening she makes an attempt to eat her own meat.

With this self cannibalism, SU-EN connects to the words of the song; "the ground between Bardo" - the space where the bones are exposed. Cannibalism and beauty exist at the same time, the biting of the flesh is an act of life, an act of love.


D. Stifanic
Published in Glas Istre 010706
Translation from Croatian: SU-EN Butoh Company


Susanna Åkerlund, alias SU-EN, the artistic leader of the Swedish SU-EN butoh company, is in Pula for the third time. In the International Theatre Festival, PUF, she shared her knowledge and skills with regional artists.

Before the festival SU-EN held a seminar on butoh. She directed the opening project of the festival, "Anno Domini 2001" in Jadran Metal, a scrap yard for recycling metal in Pula. She also performed, "Headless - love on the other side", which she has both choreographed and dances.

- This is my solo project. In this performance Lee Berwick takes part, with whom I have worked for some years now. The performance is called "Headless" and differs a lot from the opening performance. Focus is on the body. While you are training you ask youself - where is my arm, my leg, my head, which leads you into an interesing chaos. Loosing control, and finding it again is part of the training - that is the essence of this method. This is the balance point and you can not understand it without loosing it. Life is always balancing between chaos and discipline.

- Can you tell me something about your experience in Japan?

- I came to Japan in 1986, the year when the founder of butoh died, although his associates kept working. They showed me a whole new world; the becoming of something else, erasing the character and in that process open yourself to something else, something bigger.

- What is the role of the music in this performance?

- Lee started his career as a DJ and has a long experience from the club world, but the last few years he has taken the step into art music.When we are working together, as I come from the extreme art world, it gets interesting because we have different experiences. Lee does not create the kind of music we are used to, but site-specific audio material from, for example, daily life environments. He does not use melodies or rythms. It is energy.


Calle Frängsmyr
Published in Upsala Nya Tidning 010601
Translation from Swedish: Line Berg


Paperrecycling artistically illustrated at Recycle Event Could art also be some kind of recycling? Aiming to discuss questions like this Recycle Event was performed Wednesday night at Returpappercentralen in Uppsala. By means of different kinds of art forms, recycling was given an artistic form.

Among trucks and paperbales - accompanied by grinding papermills - the audience could follow a guided tour through the different stages of paper recycling. The tour was interfoliated by various dance- and performance elements.

Butoh dance
The participants were offered butoh-dance - skillfully performed by SU-EN Butoh Company - but also sculptural installations by Eva Ceginskas-Björkman and Moa Ceginskas, performance by Pino Ivancic from Croatia and sound illustration by Lee Berwick from England.

Suggestive framing
Butohdance, which originates from the late 1950s in Japan, can be described as a kind of avantgardistic and expressionist dance-theatre, where the movements of the body are in focus. In this case, the environment was also incorporated into the artwork. First, the three butoh dancers appeared from a container and performed the first part with a conveyor belt high above them. Through the air strips of paper were falling, creating a suggestive framing to the dance. The whitedressed dancers were recycle paper that were transported through the different processes of paper recycling. In the next scene they performed in a pile of paper strips, before they took place in a metal cage that was pickd up by a truck and taken to the next station.

Circulation completed
Thereafter we came to the balepress, where the paper is pressed into big bales. Some of them were equipped with white arms and legs, which was the last we would see of the butoh dancers. Thereby, the recycle process was completed. At the same time, a plaster head was pulled around in a small box, while a man was running around aimlessly among the finished bales. Responsible for the guided tour, which also was an integrated part in this Recycle Event, was Torbjörn Alm, one of four familyowners of the Returpappercentral. He stressed the importance of recycling for the environment, and had reason to be content. In Sweden last year 40 % of all papercontainers were recycled, which is a number that matches the aim of the government,with good margins.

Without fuss
During the night four performances of 30 min length were performed, which was good as the number of participants were limited to 30 persons per tour. I attended the first of these, and can only hope that the others were just as crowded. With small means, little time and without fuss SU-EN Butoh Company succeeded in mirroring some of the processes involved in paperrecycle in an artistic way.


Örjan Abrahamsson
Published in Dagens Nyheter 20/1 2000

Japanese butoh dance
Ugly and raw, grotesque and frightening.
At Fylkingen, Stockholm, Sweden

Silblings opens ambitiously and in style, with 20 minutes of darkness. When SU-EN Butoh Company invites to the spring program at Fylkingen, Butoh Breeze, the intention is not only to show perfomance but also to offer a chance for deeper understanding of originally Japanese art form. Ankoku Butoh, the Dance of Darkness, created by Tatsumi Hijikata 40 years ago has today very few but enthusiastic practitioners around the world. So the audience is blindfolded when the Dutch artist VLK M presents Unknown Territory. We sit in silence and stillness, listening to the darkness within, the breath. Forced? Actually not, even if it really demands a lot from the audience. Some will fall alseep, some will leave the room, but most of us still remain; preparing to see the performance Siblings, a duo by SU-EN (Susanna Åkerlund) and the the Dutch dancer Frank van de Ven. Both dancers have worked for a long time in Japan in different Butoh traditions and it is this difference, friction and encounter between the dancers that makes this one-hour long performance so exciting, in spite of the occasional gap and sprawl, a feature inherent in the nature of improvisation.

SIBLINGS is a mainly improvised piece. The starting point is the intertwining of sister and brother, who searchingly move, at times slowly and precise or spastically and clumsy. The performance is cryptic but rich in associations. The two remind of cripples, birds, leaves. They break away of each other and are attracted again. SU-EN is more closed, precise and compact; Frank van de Ven is more open and free, fluttering and loose. This is butoh close to the roots: raw and ugly, grotesque and frightening, far away from Sankai Juku's polished, estetic performance art.

Here the darkness is present, the body exposed: butoh.


Published in the magazine Heterogenisis June - 99
Translation from Swedish by Line Berg and Rachel Sweeney Oct -00
© Susanna Åkerlund/SU-EN

Butoh - the Living Body

Thoughts born out of an artistic activity - a way of perceiving the body and the creation of art.

Butoh places the body in the center. The body is not looked upon as a tool for expressing emotions or opinions but the body is the expression. It is a body that researches the possibilities and the limits. The body is concieved as part of a world where everything has a value and a place. Man is placed side by side with the animals, plants and minerals. The body is placed side by side with the soul and the thought. Everything is integrated in a dynamic balance. Butoh is a living artform that is defined and developed differently in every practitioner. It is affected by changes in the world and in the consciousness of man.

In our work we talk about butoh body. This involves a state of being rather than an individual or personal body shape. The butoh body is defined by the speed of life. In all forms of life and being, change occurs according to the necessary speed. Nothing is ever slow; speed is a condensed process. Where the thought does not reach the body takes over. The art of butoh seeks to approach the essence of life without intellectual interpretation. The butoh body is an extended body, dwelling in a reality which is not fixed. The butoh body makes the invisible visible and thereby recreates reality.

The process towards a butoh body starts far away from the personal body and its personal desires. The impulses come from outside and move inwards. 'Butoh quality' slowly creeps in under the skin and takes over the body to challenge all previous functions. The dancer gives herself up as a social'and cultural being so as to fully investigate the forces of life and nature.The dance is moulded like a stone that is formed by water. To work with the body is also to challenge habits. We are part of the social and cultural habits of society as well as our own personal habits. In seeking the butoh body, 'a new body', these habits need to be adressed. Can we ever be free from our habits? Who is free of culture? Who is free from herself? These questions will form a base from where to collect strength. We create the future here and now.

Butoh methodology is mediated through poetic imagery rather than logical explanations. The method encompasses very concrete and demanding physical exercises. The dance training in itself can appear extremely enduring for someone who is not sufficiently motivated. Patience, courage and endurance are continually put to the test. Some kind of deconstruction process is initiated in the dancer's body which at the same time is a construction process. The whole circle needs to be completed before the results can be clear and comprehensive. The poetic and philosophical side of Butoh can also inspire and penetrate into other artforms and lifestyles and in this way develop into other forms than dance.

Body Poetry 1

my eyes are lakes
changing color by
the color of the sky

my eyes are lakes
lakes without bottom
darkness is calling

my eyes are lakes
no longer looking at the world
the world is looking at me

my eyes are the world

In the newborn butoh body form is investigated, which is inevitably connected with non-form. In this dynamic field of tension between form and non-form the force which becomes the dance will appear. The body is transformed into different living materials - smearing mud, fragrance from a flower, a cackling chicken, tree roots twisting down into the ground or a grain of dust. In the butoh body these materials are living in us and with us. In living matter the principles which initiate movement are carefully studied. The organic principles of nature are of prime importance to the study - both the landscape which surrounds us and that which is inside of us. All living matter follows certain principles, everything changes, everything dies and is born again. The principles and the materials are studied in detail, scientifically even, so as not to become just a vague idea . How are trees growing? What do things look like in darkness? How does gravity affect the bodies? How does a grain of dust affect time?

The dancer recreates reality in the body and in the space around the body. When the border between form and non-form, between body and space is erased a visual embodiment of the essence appears. The change is complete. Transformation is achieved. Form is destroyed to leave room for non-form. Then form takes over again in an eternal dynamic process. The body is destroyed time and time again to rise anew, in a new form.

The body cherishes the principle of constant change. Nothing is permanent in form or substance, nothing is fixed. Our understanding and conception about life and the world has to be in symbiosis with this change and therefore constantly challenged. When the principle of change is alive, there is no void anymore and everything is part of the process. Body, time and space are alive. The daily life of the butoh artist demands a constant challenge to surprise oneself.

Body Poetry 2


touch your ear
feel the uneven parts
like mountains and valleys
do I dare to enter?
do I dare to go to unknown places?


my body starts to look like an ear
rounded, no sharp edges
I fall into the auditory canal
slipping, falling
it's dark inside
slippery, damp, with soft hairs


deep inside the body there is a ball room
all the intestines and organs
are there- guests of honour
I say hello to them all
slippery, slimy all in good shape
slippery, slimy like an organ should be


I forgot the purpose of my visit
but I quite like it here
it's warm and wet and dark
and the organs have chosen me to be their beauty queen
their slippery slimy beauty queen

Comment: zuru-zuru-zuru
sounds like something slimy in Japanese

SU-ENs butoh performances are created with considerable preparations and choreographic research. The choreographed parts contain elements of improvisation. Form is again juxtaposed with non-form to seek the parts that cannot be calculated or controlled. What happens in the room in this particular situation and with this particular audience? With this particular spotlight? No performance can be considered completed but is systematically revised so that the dancer will not stagnate in some kind of empty professionalism. The reality for the majority of Butoh artists (with the exception of a few world famous butoh companies ) is that very few opportunities are given to perform each production. Thus, when the works are performed again the situation, time and space are new and therefore completely new frames are created.

Meeting the audience is also part of the creative process. Here everything is pushed to the edge. The ultimate aim of the butoh dance is to communicate, touch, confront and address life in all its aspects. The meeting between the audience and the dancer's body is a joint effort where we can question our own existence. Butoh dance does not rely on plot or narrative. It deals with existance. It should affect the spectator like the forces of nature. We cannot ignore the rain or a power cut after a stroke of lightning. The spectator is urged to look through the butoh body and even further - beyond - to reveal the most challenging of all - herself. The dancer's relation to the audience is equivalent to her relation to the world. Here the butoh artist can choose the direction of this relation - provocative or subtle. As a butoh artist I have a strong need to speak to the world, to communicate and share with other people and a wish to recycle the life I have been given.

Essentially, Butoh is a subversive activity. By recapturing the power of the body, responsibility is resumed to the individual. By restoring the living power back to the body some of the structures of society are also challenged. We are free to choose how to live. We can challange our habits and go beyond them. We can create a better world and not expect that someone else will do it for us. By sharing our bodies with other existences, other beings and other people, we can address the basic values in life - respect and responsibility. By cherishing the living matter, the empty materialistic attitudes which dominate structures of society today are challenged.

Body Poetry 3

body exists in between

in between front and back
in between future and past
in between form and unform
in between darkness and light
in between joy and grief
in between heaven and earth

becoming dimensions
I walk

The Body Poetry are freely developed texts
from the teachings of Yoko Ashikawa

Susanna Åkerlund, CV

Born in Uppsala, Sweden, 1966 - Various theaterstudies - Went to Japan first time 1986 - Between 1988-1994 student and collaborator with Tomoe Shizune och Yoko Ashikawa in the groupTomoe Shizune & Hakutobo, Tokyo - 1992 takes the name of SU-EN and establishes SU-EN Butoh Company as an affiliated company to Tomoe Shizune & Hakutobo - 1994 SU-EN moves back to Sweden with her activity - SU-EN choreographs, dances and teaches according to the Ashikawa/Shizune method and develops the work towards a nordic butoh body: SU-EN butoh method.

SU-EN is based in Haglund Skola, a former village school in a forest in the northeast of Uppland. SU-EN tours extensively throughout Sweden and internationally.


Written by: Gilles Kennedy
Published in: The Japan Times, Sunday, October 11, 1998

Alien Butoh Festival plays at being foreign

A festival of ”alien” butoh is an interesting proposition, given that many people in the performing arts world perceive butoh as an alien visitor in its own right, in terms of being contrary to the forms that dictate most established dance styles.

The Alien Butoh Festival at Jean Jean in Shibuya Oct. 1-6 played on the concept of butoh being foreign, and not just different, by showcasing a slew of butoh bodies from northern Europe. The festival was produced by Imre Thormann from Switzerland, who danced ”Burnt Soil.” The other performers were Kitt Johnson from Denmark in ”Epi Pha Nic Vii,” Gregor Weber from Germany in ”Window Changes” and Susanna Akerlund from the Swedish butoh company Su-en performing ”Scrap Bodies.” 

Akerlund’s performance Oct. 3-4 was an interesting demonstration of how the forms and nuances of butoh can develop once fully integrated and removed from the all-encompassing embrace of the sensei/choreographer. Akerlund’s training was with Yoko Ashikawa, the woman who danced with butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata and founded her own group, Hakutobo, which is now named Tomoe Shizune & Hakutobo. 

Akerlund trained with Hakutobo from 1988-1993 and performed with the company and also the student company Gnome, before setting up her own group in 1992 and touring her choreography in Sweden, and to other Scandinavian countries, Russia, Germany and the Czech Republic.

”Scrap Bodies” was performed in collaboration with music by Lee Berwick, lighting by Jens Carlsson and spectacular metal artwork by Gunnar Stening. The tour continues in November to Seattle, San Francisco and New York.

The work is themed to the possibilities of movement and exploration afforded by a scrap-metal yard in Uppsala, Sweden, from which Berwick sampled the sounds emanating from the movement of this detritus of consumption. It premièred in the scrap yard in an imaginative use of site-specific work, which is all too rare in the home of butoh.

Akerlund has kept much of her original training with Ashikawa in the style of Su-en - the consciousness and intimacy of gravity that informs butoh performance, the facial contortions that express despair and glee, with the mouth of a homeless cripple. She adds to this a sense of dramatic theatricality, and a delicacy of texture brought by her natori (professional license) in traditional Japanese jiuta-mai dance.

One of the differences between the two art forms, she says, is that jiuta-mai is danced to an external stimulus, whereas the impetus for butoh comes from within the body. ”With jiuta-mai, we more often convey our response to natural phenomenon, such as rain or flower petals falling. Butoh is danced in connection with actual existence.”

The physical movements of mountains of scrap metal inspired both approaches. ”As we watched what was happening in the scrap yard, it was like looking at a constantly changing landscape, ” she says.

For Akerlund, her training with Hakutobo gave her a history of creating choreography that has its base in the ”living body” that creates it, with all its social and historical context. ”Ashikawa taught us that we cannot choose existence piecemeal. We must face it as it is, whether or not this leads to a pleasant aesthetic experience or not, ” she says. ”We’re not in a position to accept only a few molecules when lightning strikes.”

”Scrap Bodies” is a work of dramatic contrasts, and a major development from earlier pieces such as ”Kaze no Cho,” which premièred at Tokyo’s Tiny Alice six years ago. It opens with a series of peregrinations around the stage, which can be traced by the footprints left by the white rice powder makeup used on the body.

Akerlund explores metal artworks with a gummy grin and the delight of finding beauty in the discarded, in a parallel to the practice of seeing the spectacular in found objects which has so amused the fine arts. This section segues into an explosive frieze of the kind of dance you’d expect if the builders of the pyramids took a quick break to ape the drawings on the walls. The metal artwork is an integral partner in this, down to a stunning copper headdress, which also evokes a goddess of metal-workers.

Yet this is all the prologue for the emotional crux of ”Scrap Bodies,” when in silence Akerlund draws herself up into a slack-jawed gigantic shape, collar bones like excavated eyebrows high over nipples like eyes, and holds the physical tension to its breaking point. The final section in a blaze of light defies most traditional butoh structures of withdrawal and abjuration, as Akerlund flings herself at the wall in fetus shape, or bouncing around on her butt like a perverted elf while playing with the metal spheres.

For those who operate on a fixed definition of butoh, it is a challenge. For others who perceive the dance form to have the potential for limitless development, it is long overdue.

Although it has been noted that traditional butoh lends itself to the sterner artistic expressions of the northern hemisphere, this Alien Butoh Festival was a welcome addition to the surge of performance this year inspired by the Buddhist commemoration of the death of founder Tatsumi Hijikata 13 years ago, which is expected to culminate with performances by Kazuo Ohno and Akiko Motofuji, Hijikata’s widow, next month at Setagaya Public Theater.

For an art form that is now researched at postgraduate level in academic institutions worldwide, it is an exciting time. And the age-old controversy here of questioning whether it is equally well served by non-Japanese bodies may finally be laid to rest.


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