Mar 15 2011

Artists Pay Tribute to the Late Kazuo Ohno

by Tina Bejasa

The Crying Light is Antony and the Johnsons’ third studio album. This is the cover art. Copyright the artists.

The death of Kazuo Ohno (1906–2010)— a pioneer of the Japanese avant-garde dance form, Butoh —saddened many in the creative community who lost a powerful influence to the art form and deeply affected other artists. His signature style of expressionist improvisation exhibited ghostly movements and mime-like gesturing, and dealt with themes of light and darkness.

Ohno had inspired Antony Hegarty, of Antony and the Johnsons, so deeply that he chose to use photos of Ohno for two of the band’s album covers, and referred to Ohno as his mother to Fader magazine. 

Hegarty even wrote Ohno’s obituary for the Guardian, and collaborated with filmmaker Peter Sempel—who made the 2004 documentary Kazuo Ohno: I Dance Into the Light—to create a short tribute video of the legendary dancer.

Hegarty’s commemorations of Ohno have inspired other artists in turn. Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci (a friend of Hegarty) was so moved by an Ohno tribute concert staged by Antony and the Johnsons in October that he used Ohno as a muse for Givenchy’s dramatic 2011 Spring/Summer collection. For his haute-couture gowns the Italian designer drew from a Japanese motif of traditional cranes and futuristic robots, and based the collection’s palette on the colors of dried flowers—reminiscent of the ones used by Ohno in performances. The collection featured Philip Tracy-designed hats, boleros and layered opaque fabrics, capturing polarity of the masculine and feminine, as well as the essence of fragility, that Ohno brought to his performances. 

Ohno’s legacy will certainly endure, with his work inspiring artists, musicians and fashion designers for decades to come. He dedicated his life to his art to the point where even his loss of the ability to walk since 2001 did not prevent him from performing. He embraced the beauty of gestures until 2007, when he staged his final performance, shortly after his 100th birthday. 

GIvenchy’s 2011 Spring/Summer collection. Photo courtesy of Givenchy.

David Zwirner
Johyun Gallery
Massimo de Carlo