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Baring the bones of butoh

By John Edwards, photo by Michael Amici

Bob Webb, artistic director of Bare Bones Butoh in San Francisco, California, will give four butoh performances this weekend at Shelter Theater. Webb divides his time between theater and dance. He makes most of his living as a stage manager, but he is also an Equity actor and a butoh dancer who has performed all over the US, as well as in France, Germany, Holland, Spain, Japan, Mexico, India, Malaysia, and Thailand. I asked him a few questions about butoh, what attracted him to this art form, and his own experience of this unique mix of theater and dance.

Butoh performances
By Bob Webb
Fri, Mar 21, 7pm; Sat, Mar 22, 2pm & 7pm; Sun, Mar 23, 5pm
Shelter Theater
Vicente Guerrero 4
150 pesos
Reservations: 154-7524 or

John Edwards: How did you get started with butoh?

Bob Webb: I first experienced butoh in the early 1980s. I was acting in a production of Rashomon directed by SMA local Allan Gross. He had cast a Japanese exchange student named Haruko to portray the Spirit Medium. She was doing these incredible movements that truly seemed to invoke the spirit of a dead samurai, and much more. I was transfixed. She said she was doing butoh and had danced with one of the founders of the movement.

During the run, I would work out with her as a warm-up for the performances, and I found it was subtly informing my work. But then the show was over, she left the area, and that was that until I moved to San Francisco, started stage managing the International Butoh Festivals for nine years and hooked up with Koichi and Hiroko Tamano, two masters who live in the Bay Area. You might say that my returning to San Miguel de Allende is bringing my interest in butoh full circle.

JE: Did your interest in butoh grow out of your work as an actor and stage manager?

BW: My acting training served me well with butoh. I discovered several similarities between both disciplines. In acting, you create a “backstory” for your character, and you delve into what you suppose is that character’s psychological and emotional history.

In butoh, you attempt to go so deeply into yourself that you find a universal level, a place that all living experience comes from. A place where we are all one. I’ve always been a physical actor, and I was strongly attracted to the potentially deeper, physical modality of butoh, an exchange that goes beyond a specific character.

My work as a stage manager served me well in that it was a service I could offer during the international butoh festivals in San Francisco, in exchange for taking workshops with most of the finest butoh artists in the world.

JE: What connections do you make with yourself when you perform? And in what ways do those connections speak to the audience?

BW: Butoh is a deeply personal art. Even “planned” movements mean very little if there’s no deep connection. One does not “dance” butoh—in butoh, one “is danced.” The movement would not be there if not compelled by something greater than the movement. There is also a strong improvisational aspect to butoh. What’s going on right now, while the dance is happening, also informs the dance.

Some of the pieces I will be performing are “scripted” inasmuch as they are investigations of something particular. A couple of the pieces are more improvisatory, but each contains a theme I want to explore, even if the manifestations of that theme change from performance to performance. If you come to both shows, you might well experience different states each time.

As for the audience, well, my purpose is not to “show” them something, although that’s part of it. Primarily, butoh is an invitation into themselves. If I’m doing my job—being as open, accessible, vulnerable, true and honest as possible—then the audience, based on who they are, will find their own connections within themselves.

Reservations for the butoh performances at Shelter Theater can be made by calling 154-7524 or e-mailing


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