Kazuo Ohno was born in Hakodate City, Hokkaido, on October 27 in 1906. His father, the head of a fishermen's cooperative, spoke Russian and went to fish all over to Kamchatka. His mother was good at cooking European cuisine and playing Japanese zither with thirteen strings. She also plalyed organ and her children often sang to her organ.
When Kazuo was at junior high school, he was sent to one of his relatives, Shiraishi, in Akita prefecture to live with them. Shiraishi family didn't have any children. At Odate junior high school Kazuo belonged to a track-and-field events club and established a new record in the prefecture. In 1926 Kazuo entered the Japan Athletic College. A poor student as he was, a superintendent of a dormitory took him to the Imperial Theater to see a performance by the Spanish dancer Antonia Merce, known as "La Argentina," .La Argentina was also known as "the Queen of the Castanets" and she innovated 20th century Spanish dance. Spanish poet Garcia Lorca highly praised her. Kazuo was so impressed by her dance.
After graduating the college, Kazuo began working as a physical education teacher at Kanto Gakuin High School, a private Christian school in Yokohama.
He began to dance upon moving to Soshin Girls school, another Christian school, since he needed to teach dance to the girls students.He began training with two of Japan's modern dance pioneers, Baku Ishii and Takaya Eguchi, the latter a choreographer who had studied Neue Tanz with Mary Wigman in Germany. In 1938 Kazuo was drafted and went with the army to the front in China and New Guinea for 9 years
Kazuo held the first recital in 1949 at Kanda Kyoritsu Hall in Tokyo when he was 43 years old. As soon as returning from New Guinea, where he was a prisoner of war for a year, Kazuo resumed dancing. The experience of the war made him dance "Jellyfish dance" in one of his recitals in 1950s. On returning from New Guinea, he saw jellyfishes in the sea where those who died on board by hunger and diseases were buried.
In the 1950s, Kazuo Ohno met Tatsumi Hijikata, who inspired him to begin cultivating Butoh (originally called Ankoku Butoh, the "Dance of Utter Darkness"). Butoh was evolving in the turmoil of Japan's postwar landscape. Hijikata, who rejected the Western dance forms so popular at the time, developed with a collective group the vocabulary of movements and ideas that later, in 1961, he named the Ankoku Butoh-ha movement. In 1959, Hijikata created one of the earliest Butoh works, Kinjiki(Forbidden Colors), based on the novel by Yukio Mishima. In 1977, Ohno premiered his solo Butoh work directed by Hijikata, "La Argentina Sho" (Admiring La Argentina), which was awarded the Dance Critic's Circle Award. In 1980, "Admiring La Argentina" is Kazuo's masterpiece as well as Butoh's.
Kazuo Ohno was invited to the 14th International Festival in Nancy, France, in 1980 and toured to Strasbourg, London, Stuttgart, Paris and Stockholm. He danced "Admiring La Argentina" in the festival and had a great impact on the audience by his unique work. With Hijikata directing, he created two more major works, "My Mother" and "Dead Sea", performed with Yoshito Ohno. Other works of Ohno's include "Water Lilies", "Ka Cho Fu Getsu"(Flowers-Birds-Wind-Moon)and "The Road in Heaven, The Road in Earth". As one of the most significant Butoh performers, Ohno has toured throughout Europe, North and South America, Australia and Asia. He has performed in Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, France, Spain, Denmark, Poland, Canada and the United States. Many students have come to study under him from all over the world.
After his 90th birthday, he was still active as a Butoh dancer. The last overseas performance was "Requiem for the 20th Century" which was held in New York on December 1999. But in the same year he had eye trouble and his physical strength gradually started waning.Yet Kazuo Ohno has continued dancing as if he was nourished by his age. When he could not walk by himself, he danced with the supports by others.When he could not stand even with the supports, he danced as he seated himself. When his legs didn't move as he wanted, he danced with his hands. When he lost himself, he crawled on his knees and audience were so moved by watching his back.
When he dances, he vitalizes himself. An ordinary old man becomes a somebody who gives power to others. People love to encounter Kazuo because of that. He lives long, he moves people deeply. Kazuo Ohno is an artist who has enlarged human potential.
Awards: He was awarded a cultural award from Kanagawa Prefecture in 1993, a cultural award from Yokohama city in 1998 and the Michelagelo Antonioni Award for the Arts in 1999.
Films: Kazuo Ohno starred in the films, "The Potrait of Mr.O" (1969), "Mandala of Mr.O" (1971) and "Mr.0's Book of the Dead" (1973), directed by Chiaki Nagano; in "The Scene of the Soul" (1991) by Katsumi Hirano; and "Kazuo Ohno" (1995), directed by Daniel Schmid. Books: He has written three books on Butoh, "The Palace Soars through the Sky", a collection of essays and photographs, "Dessin" with drawings and notes on his Butoh creations and "Words of Workshop", a collection of lectures given in his workshop. Also "Food for the Soul", a book of his selected pictures from 1930's through 1999, has been published. "Words of Workshop" and "Food for the Soul" has been translated into English as "kazuo ohno's world : from without & within" published by Wesleyan University Press.