Progress Report: Antony & The Johnsons
NAME: Antony Hegarty
PROGRESS REPORT: Returning from two important shows in Japan that brought The Crying Light full-circle, allowing him to move fully into his fourth studio album.
Last week Antony Hegarty dropped me a line about two recent shows he did on February 11 and 12th in Tokyo, featuring Yoshito Ohno and the Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio, along with avant-garde composer/Current 93 associate William Basinski and performance artist/dancer Johanna Constantine. It was a note explaining the events, which he referred to as “a mythic journey,” telling me he felt they were particularly important to understanding The Crying Light. A big reason: Ohno’s 103-year old father Kazuo Ohno is the Butoh dancer who appears on The Crying Light — which was dedicated to Ohno — and Another World covers. There are other reasons, too.
In Hegarty’s words,
We were invited to come to Tokyo and collaborate on an evening with Kazuo Ohno Studio. They were familiar with my work because I featured the images of Kazuo on my last two releases and had spoken so extensively in the press about his influence on me since my teens. I brought William [Basinski] and Johanna [Constantine] with me because they are so close to me personally and aesthetically and I wanted to share our world with Ohno studio. Though not drawing from the same fountain, there are parallels in Billy’s work and Johanna’s work to some of the tenets of Butoh that were great to notice. These were my first concerts in Japan so it was really a dream…
I thought Antony’s original letter touched upon this “dream” so honestly and beautifully, that I asked him if I could quote it in full. Hearing him describe it offers rare insights and, in the end, makes more sense than me paraphrasing.
We visited my hero Kazuo Ohno dance studio just outside Tokyo yesterday. We met Kazuo, who is still conscious, though he is a static state physically, and is in bed with his eyes closed. We had a feast with Yoshito Ohno and his family and some of his students. Yoshito has taken on Kazuo’s mantle as teacher at the studio Yoshito himself is in his late ’70s, the age when Kazuo began his masterwork as a soloist. (Kazuo is now 103.) The house is filled with this incredible kind of radiant light and you can see Mount Fujiyama from Kazuo’s window through the cherry trees.
Tonight we are performing with Yoshito Ohno and films of Kazuo. William Basinski has set scores to the masterpiece Mr Ohno’s Book Of The Dead, a film from 1973 in which Kazuo and a group of other artists descending upon a pigsty and suckle a mother pig. It is unbelievable and beautiful: Hiroshima, Kabuki, Genet, Artaud. It bares a relationship with Jack Smith’s Normal Love, which was made at the same time under equally motivated and underground circumstances in New York City. [Note: It’s the final film in Chiago Nagano’s Ohno trilogy, which also includes 1969’s The Potrait of Mr. O and 1971’s Mandala Of Mr.O.)
William has scored the film with a live version of one of the Disintegration Loops. He is also doing an extended piece with Johanna, like he did at the Sydney Opera House and in Perth with me last week.
Then I sing a selection of songs from The Crying Light while Yoshito dances, we practiced yesterday at the Sogetsu Theater. At the end o the show I am singing an Elvis song while Yoshito dances with a puppet of Kazuo. The effect is as though Kazuo where actually before us, its totally mesmerizing … It’s just one of special those moments. It’s definitely the climax of The Crying Light project, and it’s a joyful moment.
As far as the specifics and order of things, Basinski opened with a 20-minute set, complete with video installation. Johanna Constantine did a dance. This was followed by a 10-minute film tribute to Kazuo Ohno featuring images and quotes from his book Workshop Words. Then, as Hegarty explains:
[There were] eight songs by me with piano violin and guitar (Rob moose on instruments), during the course of which Yoshito Ohno appeared four times on stage, each time in a different costume (horse head, Victorian dress with mirror, white suit with red flower, and white flower). It was somewhat improvisational, with Yoshito dancing and moving through the space in his Butoh manner. [Then came a] 15-minute excerpt of Mr. O’s Book of the Dead featuring a younger Kazuo Ohno and a troupe of dancers moving through a farm/country landscape…
He ended by singing Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” while Yoshito Ohno danced with a hand puppet of his father. The complete setlist:
“Her Eyes Are Underneath The Ground”
“You Are My Sister”
“Cripple And The Starfish”
“Epilepsy Is Dancing”
“Daylight And The Sun”
“My Lady Story”
“The Crying Light”
“Can’t Help Falling In Love”
“Hope There’s Someone”
Hegarty isn’t currently planning to release any sort of CD/DVD of it, but expect his new album Swanlights in the Fall. It will be packaged with a book of his drawing and some writing. Until then, here’s the essay he wrote for the program for the shows. It’s titled “Holocene Epoch / The Weeping Vaginal Christ.”
I first saw an image of Kazuo Ohno on a poster while I was attending school in Angers, France at the age of 16. I was immediately enchanted. Who was this beautiful creature, dressed in Victorian women’s apparel and wearing heavy makeup, reaching towards the stars? The man who was putting up the posters gave me one to take home. Not even knowing Kazuo Ohno’s name, I put the picture above my bed, where it has remained to this day. Little did I know that five years later this mysterious dancer would become my greatest inspiration.
In 1991 I saw an experimental film by Peter Sempel called Just Visiting This Planet. At one point an androgynous performer appeared upon the screen, dancing by the side of a cliff, mirroring the crumbling rocks with is expressive hands. I was transporting by his heart-rending, child-like grace; I started to cry. I went home and was shocked to realize that it was the man from the poster bove my bed, now dancing before eyes.
After learning more about Kazuo Ohno, I began to study Butoh with Maureen Flemming in NYC. Maureen had studied with Kazuo and Yoshito Ohno as well as with Min Tinaka, and she was adapting some of their teachings for Western students.
I am a dead body lying underneath the ground, turning into carbon, iron and minerals. I am curling like the petals of a rose, like the fingers of a dried mouse. Water drains from my body and into the earth, filled with the memories of my ancestors; I am a paramecium; I am a dinosaur, an eruption of boiling flesh. The trees watch with green, blinking eyes. I feel afraid.
The white lines of my mother’s dress, like the rings of a tree, draw me into her circle. She touches my face and I start to cry. Stars fall from my eyes.
“The Crying Light” (for Kazuo Ohno)
Let I Shy cry Under the light
Let I Cry sight A child at night
I can have Courage To receive your love
I can Step steps Follow my blind Inside
Myself A secret grows
My own Shelter Agony goes
I was born to adore you
As a baby in the blind
I was born to represent you
To carry your head into the sun
To carve your face into the back of the sun
With all this background in mind, take another listen to “The Crying Light.”
If there’s a band you want Progress Report to drag out of the studio, or bed, for an update, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.