Unbearable Darkness

Unbearable Darkness is a project that speaks to and speculates on Tatsumi Hijikata, the legendary founder of the Butoh dance movement in Japan in the 1960s. Throughout this project, how memory and immateriality transmit into worlds of desire, belonging, and representation has been questioned. Among them, a choreographic question is put forth in Unbearable Darkness: How does a ghost choreograph? Are there any technological possibilities to dance with Hijikata again? 

In parts a film travelogue, a cybernetic Butoh-dance experiment, and a paranormal encounter, Unbearable Darkness was first created in 2018 as a theatrical dance performance. The performance was created with a 3-year research process into the histories of Japanese Butoh dance and the cultural conditions of Japanese shamanism.

The Spirit of Tatsumi Hijikata

Tatsumi Hijikata (9 March 1928 – 21 January 1986) was a Japanese choreographer, and the founder of Butoh. Butoh arose in Japan at the end of the 1950s, encompassing a diverse range of techniques including dance, performance, theatre, and movement. Hijikata would often refer to his form of physical expression as Ankoku Butō (“dance of darkness”). Choy Ka Fai invoked Hijikata’s spirit on his 31st death anniversary in 2017 at his tomb to reignite hope for our choreographic futures. His spirit is now based in Ito city, on the eastern shore of Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan.

The Wind That Cuts the Body

The Wind That Cuts the Body is a metaphoric translation of the mythology of “Kamaitachi”, a weasel-like demon, who haunts rice fields and slashes people with a sickle. The research based exhibition attempts to inform and invent possible narratives beyond the 60 years of international cult mystification that capsulate the poetic beauty and the darkness of Butoh dance culture. It features rare audio-visual documents from the Tatsumi Hijikata Archive in Tokyo and from the artist’s expeditions, interviews, and documentary sketches. Choy went so far as to interview the spirit of Hijikata through a Japanese sharman itako as part of his investigation.

Installation View at CCA - Center of Contemporary Art Singapore

Research Interviews

Game Demo

Unbearable Darkness Game Demo is an experimental third-person, 4 non-action, documentary adventure game inspired by the afterlives of Butoh master Tatsumi Hijikata. It is a recollection of thoughts, movements, and a expedition into the world of Butoh. How can the digital, virtual, immaterial, and non-human expressions collapse or expand the idea of wandering? Unbearable Darkness Game Demo departs into a world of of speculative documentary, rendered dreams, and paranormal dance experience.

"I remember I was at your memorial service and I felt that we remember you too much. There is too much attachment to you and to Butoh. I question: how do we deal with this attachment? Is forgetting the only way to move on? How do we create or innovate? Your ghost, the ghost of Butoh, is immense and omnipresent. Nobody forgets."

Excerpts from an Email to the Spirits of Tatsumi Hijikata by Choy Ka Fai

Everyone can Butoh

Butoh is a forgery. Forgery is an intention to imitate, both in dance and in nature. Forgery is an attempt to look like something. To look like Butoh is not difficult. Forgery is different from imitation. Imitation is the need to reproduce a copy. Forgery is creative: you steal what is good, trendy, or popular and relieve yourself of the responsibility to reproduce a copy simply because you have no copyright. There is no fake Butoh. But there can be empty Butoh. If everyone can be an artist, it must be that Butoh can be everyone.

Everyone can Butoh is a self-service performance for one user made for the mobile phone. It is inspired by Tatsumi Hijikata’s Butoh Notation (Butoh-Fu) as recorded by Yukio Waguri and remixed by Choy Ka Fai. Programmed by Brandon Tay with Spark AR app. Blink your eyes to interact.

Commissioned by Tanz im August / HAU Hebbel am Ufer and 1000 Scores.