Sankai Juku is an internationally known butoh dance troupe. Co-founded by Amagatsu Ushio in 1975, they are touring worldwide, performing and teaching. As of 2010, Sankai Juku had performed in 43 countries and visited more than 700 cities.
Butoh’s source is the Japanese avant-garde of the 1960s, a period when Japan struggled with the lingering effects of the atomic bomb detonations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War II. Originally called "ankoku butoh," or "dance of darkness," the medium created a space for the intensely grotesque and perverse on the stage. Amagatsu's work exhibits the conventional tensions of butoh and envelops them in a mood of emotional stillness. “Sankai Juku” means "studio by the mountain and the sea" and implies the serenity and calm which is characteristic of the work.
Sankai Juku's dancers have, like other tipical Butoh dancers, shaved heads and bodies covered in white powder.They may be costumed, partially costumed, or almost unclothed. Rarely wearing typical “street” clothing onstage, they sometimes wear long skirt-like garments.
The all-male company’s work is performed by as few as six dancers eschewing the movements typical of modern or other dance forms. The performances are characterized by slow, mesmerizing passages, often using repetition and incorporating the whole body, sometimes focusing only on the feet or fingers. Sometimes minuscule movement or no movement is discernible and one is presented a meditative vision of statuesque postures or groupings. Occasionally recognizable emotive postures and gestures are used, notably contorted body shapes and facial expressions conveying ecstasy and perhaps more often, pain and silent “shrieks.” Frequently, ritualized formal patterns are employed, smoothly evolving or abruptly fractured into quick, sharp, seemingly disjointed sequences whose symbolism or “meanings” are obscure.
Music and sound effects are employed, often repetitiously, and range from dynamic drumming to jazz, natural sounds such as wind, sirens, etc., to electronic music and sounds so soft as to be barely perceptible - and periods of silence. Spare scenic backgrounds, delicately nuanced lighting and arresting props (in "Kinkan Shonen," a live peacock) add to the ethereal nature of their performances.