If any proof is needed that the Japanese have done more than just imitate the West in the last 50 years, butoh is it. Butoh–or ankyoku butoh, the “dance of darkness,” as it was originally called–emerged in the mid 1960s as the most extreme of postwar reactions in art, a “scream against the sky,” to quote Yoko Ono. Imagine for a moment, in a society marked by conformity and exquisite etiquette, an explosion in the dance world: virtually naked dancers with bald heads and painted bodies writhing, often very slowly, defying any recognized form. It shook Japan, and it shook the world. But as butoh evolved, various techniques emerged, to the dismay of purists, and took root in Europe and America. Sankai Juku is by far the most famous butoh group internationally, due partly to the modifications it’s made to the grotesque expressionism that characterized the form; the 20-year-old troupe has been based in Paris for ten years, and its work marries a primordial essence with the chic and visually stunning. Butoh–arguably the most original dance form to emerge in centuries–has had an influence on modern dance, dance theater, and expressionism in general, and real Japanese butoh is not often performed in the West. Sankai Juku represents the true mystery of original butoh as well as its elegant growth. Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, 9501 N. Skokie Blvd.; $40. Call 847-673-6300 for tickets and information.

–Joseph Houseal

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/ Delanaye.