Like Smoke, Like Ash


“In the brief encounter of one night, like the life of fireworks in the dark sky, a lasting message may be passed from one generation to the next.” 

Like Smoke, Like Ash
A ‘New Life’ in Becoming Old
For Lizzie Slater*

The Japanese characters for ‘smoke’ (煙) and ‘ash’ (灰), both contain the character of ‘fire’ (火). It is as though they etymologically recall their material origin in fire, and visually indicate themselves as the next stage of transformation in the ‘life of fire.’ Hijikata would often tell his disciples to become ‘disappearing things, appearing things.’ ‘Disappearance,’ for him, meant more than simple self-erasure; it contained the element of something else. This structure of containment, with one thing harboring the possibility of another, might be termed a kind of ‘compound.’ Just like the ‘charcoal’ (火種) hidden in the embers of a dying fire.

This is the way I learned to live and dance from Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno; it is the way I have danced my entire life. In the brief encounter of one night, a lasting message might be fleetingly passed from an old generation to a new, like the ‘life’ of a firework in the night. With this dance, I pray and pass a flower to those who have already gone.

~ Natsu Nakajima

* Lizzie Slater was a dear friend and early supporter of Nakajima’s work in the U.K. She worked with Nakajima for over 10 years in helping promote and encourage her work. The performance is dedicated to the memory of Lizzie and the friendship they shared.


In Praise of Nakajima (Selected Reviews)


“Interestingly, the most provocative and disturbing work I saw as part of LIFT, was entirely non-verbal. Muteki-Sha’s Niwa (The Garden) […] was a production from which one staggered, stunned by a performance of incredible intensity.” (Oscar Moore, ‘LIFT Festival,’ Plays & Players, Oct. 1983)


“Cries of ‘Bravo’ welcomed Natsu Nakajima to LIFT at the Lyric Studio on Monday […] a piece of great intensity and concentration […] two artists at the peak of control over their chosen discipline. There’s nothing else like it in the world.” (‘Sold on Butoh,’ Lift Off, Aug. 1983)


“Miss Nakajima's two-hour journey into her own traumas and their universalized expression is more moving than previous Butoh performances. Muteki Sha is a must […] This kind of virtuosity is amazing. Miss Nakajima, in particular, can tense up every fiber in her body, blow up each cheek or pucker each lip while turning her face into an eye-lolling ‘'mask’.” (Anna Kisselgoff, ‘Montreal Festival,’ New York Times, Sept. 23, 1985)


“It’s not an outwardly descriptive dance but one in which the inner necessities seem to press the body into recollected shapes, ritual travail. […] A powdery dust rises from her as she moves. She could be smoldering. […] a member of the audience threw a single flame-colored rose on the stage, where it lay in the fading spotlight after the woman left. This, too, made me think of Kazuo Ohno.” (Marcia B. Siegal, ‘Flickering Stones,’ The Village Voice, Oct. 15, 1985)


“Miss Nakajima is different, in that she succeeds in universalizing the personal. Butoh's cosmic concerns are rendered in a generalized manner, but the human feelings that parallel the implied cataclysm are fully visible here as well.” (‘Butoh,’ Anna Kisselgoff, New York Times, Oct. 1, 1987)


About Natsu Nakajima

Natsu Nakajima is a prominent figure in Tokyo’s Butoh dance scene and one of its foremost pioneers outside Japan. For over thirty years she performed, choreographed, and taught the contemporary art form in addition to being a champion of dance for people of diverse abilities.

More about Natsu Nakajima and the workshop she is offering while in Waterloo Region can be found here.

Special Thanks

With special thanks to the following individuals for supporting this international cultural and artistic exchange:

Majdi Bou-Matar, Pam Patel, Denise Fujiwara, Adina Herling, Prof. Andy Houston, Janelle Rainville, Arnold Snyder, Maragaret Janzen, Christian Snyder, Heather Majaury, Tanya Williams, Nick Cumming, Claire Mastroangelo and all the workshop participants and audience members.

Workshop and Performance made possible by collaboration with CanAsian Dance and the University of Waterloo's Department of Drama and Speech Communication.

University of Waterloo - Drama and Speech Communication