A young girl dreams of becoming a dancer. She goes away to college and becomes enthralled to a charismatic dance teacher. Four years later, she is dead from suicide. Here is the story from her father:
On April 25, 2012, we lost our beloved daughter Sharoni Stern to suicide; the pain of which still tortures us to this day. Her death left us with so many unanswered questions, as it was the last thing anyone ever expected from her. Imagine Sharoni (as we affectionately called her), a beautiful, smart, talented, happily married young woman, who throughout her life never exhibited any signs of mental disturbance whatsoever; a person who was doing exactly what she wanted to in life- formally studying the art of dance and performance at a university; who was an active humanitarian and a health conscious vegetarian; who was adored by her friends and family, and was equally devoted and loving to them. Then imagine her suddenly breaking away from all this, from everything she was, everything she had, and ending her own life. Under ordinary circumstances there could be no explanation for her shocking behavior and untimely demise, but as time would tell, the circumstances surrounding her death were anything but ordinary.
Our search for an answer led us on a trail of evidence we never could have envisioned. What happened to our daughter as it turned out was, simply put, the result of a powerful, corrupt influence on a young impressionable mind. Since her death we have sifted through and read hundreds of emails, diary and journal entries, and have spoken with many of her fellow students, dancers, and even some brave outspoken victims, with all fingers pointing towards one sinister man: the Butoh dance master Teruyoshi Kotoura, othewise known as Katsura Kan. Moreover, communications are coming in from all over the world, almost daily, speaking the truth about Kan's unbounded terrible abuses. Here is our daughter's story, spanning more than four years, so that all may read, learn, share, and hopefully avoid the same tragedy.
Sharoni grew up in a very loving home with all the guidance, devotion, and support we as parents could bestow upon our children. She was always happy, creative, socially engaged, and loved to learn and experience new things. She exhibited a passion and talent for acting, singing, and dance at an early age, all of which she would develop skillfully throughout her upbringing. It was only natural then that she would follow this love of hers into college, where she continued her formal studies of these arts at the University of Gainesville, and subsequently at the University of Miami (where she would earn a Bachelors of Arts). With her love for these arts stronger than ever she decided to pursue a Master's Degree in Fine Arts, and selected Naropa University, in Boulder Colorado, as her institute for higher education, which is where her story truly begins. It is important to reemphasize, here at the beginning, that Sharoni never showed any signs of mental problems throughout her life, including depression of any sort, prior to her involvement with Kan. It is also important to note that at this time she was a newly wed, having married Todd Siegel in May of 2007; both of whom were completely in love and devoted to one another. In the fall of 2007, she started the first semester of her Master's degree program at Naropa University, a private liberal arts college. As part of her M.F.A. curriculum, she enrolled in a class to study a style of dance called Butoh, originally from Japan. As defined from Wikipedia, "It typically involves playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, extreme or absurd environments, and is traditionally performed in white body makeup with slow hyper-controlled motion, with or without an audience. There is no set style, and it may be purely conceptual with no movement at all." And I further believe, based upon my research and evidence, it also teaches and practices the philosophy of pain, suffering, and death. As such, it should not be a part of any curriculum taught in any American universities, especially in an accredited university such as Naropa, that was, and still is receiving government funding.
It was there that she met her instructor for the first time, the so called "Master" Katsura Kan, a faculty teacher brought in from Japan (who I believe had no proper credentials to teach in the U.S. school system at any level). Later, Sharoni was requested by the head of the M.F.A. program to become his T.A., or teacher's assistant, which she accepted. Like most students, Sharoni was always very trusting and respectful towards her teachers, and never had a reason to doubt their intentions toward her. This particular teacher however, as it turned out, had his own specific agenda for Sharoni and like fellow students: one that was completely egomaniacal and self-serving. Incredible as it may seem, over the next few years Kan would misuse his influence as a teacher over his students to slowly brainwash them with deception and manipulation tactics, all rooted within a corrupted Butoh philosophy.
As stated before, his teachings were based on pain, suffering, and death; on the denial and erasure of the self; on the destruction of one's ego; on the denial of one's family and friends; and ultimately on the complete erasure of everything you know and all that you are as the only way to become a true Butoh master. This philosophy is very much based on the ancient teachings of the Buddha, but taken to a much darker and twisted extreme. (Consequently, this art form was banned in Japan for a period of over 30 years. I believe that no school should be promoting this kind of teaching to future teachers, leaders, and masters of our society.) Moreover, as expressly stated by some of his victimized students, he was a sexual deviant and predator, with one girl in particular stating that Kan went so far as to say, "the essence of Butoh is like wild sex". It is clear from their testimonials that he used the dance as a seductive method on his young female students, and from all the other evidence analyzed it is easy to deduce that he used the teachings of Butoh with ill, sinister intentions to inject dangerous, life altering ideas into his victims, in order to gain control over both their minds and bodies. Now if all that isn't enough, there is also evidence that he used mind-altering drugs on his students in an effort to increase his control over them. According to one student who barely escaped his clutches, Kan drugged her without her consent. Interestingly enough, she came down with the same "forgetfulness" symptoms that Sharoni had experienced prior to her suicide. She did not know where she was, who she was, and was just completely lost to reality. Whatever this powerful mystery drug was, it obviously had a shattering and devastating effect on the mind, and most certainly wasn't a 'legal' drug to distribute and use (which of course makes his actions illegal). Moreover, there is clear evidence that Kan was fully aware that many of his student performers were totally under the influence of hard drugs while performing on stage with him overseas, but no evidence yet that he was responsible for dispensing these drugs. Nevertheless, no teacher in their right ethical or moral mind would allow his students to do any drugs period, in his presence at least, let alone allow them to perform under the influence. Quite simply, if a teacher does nothing to correct his students’ behavior, then essentially he is encouraging it. In one South American country our daughter was observed in his presence, both during and after their dance performance, to be verbally incoherent and unable to communicate. In retrospect, this was the first public sign that Sharoni was in pressing trouble, but incredibly so, word never got back to us about it at the time. Maybe if we were able to intervene at this vital juncture, things might have turned out differently.
Instead, unbeknownst to us, Sharoni's condition continued to worsen. Her mind began unraveling from everything Kan had influenced her with. She became a person unable to be recognized, lost in the world; a slave totally dependent upon his corrupt guidance. To make matters worse, as per her own writings, he also physically abused her and even forced her to take money from her family and spend it on him for personal travel, lodgings, massages, etc., and to support their world Butoh tour. (He even had a special code word for it: Take San.) In defense of Sharoni's character, it should be noted that her record prior to her involvement with Kan was spotless; her actions always honest and upstanding. Now suddenly she was using my credit card without permission and asking her brother to wire money directly to Kan's personal bank account. It was obviously his character to blame, or lack thereof rather, that was influencing her to do this; a character clearly without morals or common human decency: a truth no more evident then when they arrived in Denmark; a performance tour stop that would bring her to one of the most dangerous places in Europe.
In Copenhagen, there is an area called Christiana, known throughout Europe as a mega-center for drug dealing, use, and prostitution. It is here that Kan made his students stay for two weeks, and where Sharoni was later found abandoned and crying in the streets by police after her first psychotic breakdown. When we arrived (her family and husband), she was in a psychiatric ward at the local hospital Bispebjerg Bakke 23. There she would remain, in Ward 5201, for five days before being released. It is interesting to note that Kan had visited her in the hospital and strangely had bragged to her doctor about how Sharoni had fallen in love with him and saying how common it was for him with many of his students doing the same. (Another time he bragged about sleeping with over 160 young students.) This was something he was proud of: the seduction and manipulation of young girls to use, abuse, and dump as he saw fit. It was this incessant cruelty that eventually wore out Sharoni's sanity, which continued on even after we demanded (and our lawyers) that he leave her alone (which interestingly enough, he initially agreed to). But as it turned out, nothing could stop him from having his way. We brought Sharoni back to the U.S. to live in our home in Miami, Florida. For three weeks we tried to convince her to check in to a private mental care facility called Life Skills of South Florida, which she eventually acquiesced to. During this time she had about 10 psychotic attacks. Two days prior to Sharoni's admission to Life Skills, Kan got in touch with her by e-mail and Skype. He told her that he didn't believe that she was sick and that she should run away from her husband and family. He even went so far as to send her a prepaid ticket to Thailand to meet him which she used, still being under his spell. Upon seeing Sharoni, Kan realized how sick she was and sent her, albeit it 10 days later, to San Francisco. We rushed to meet her and take her back with us to Boulder Colorado for new treatment.
We had thought from his actions that he had finally let her go, but Kan wasn't done with her just yet. He ignored the pleas and demands of our family, powerful attorneys, and her many psychologists and psychiatrists to leave her alone. For example, our lawyer from Colorado emailed him a stern warning to stop any and all communications with her, stating that Kan was manipulating and enslaving a mentally disabled person. As expected, he did not respond and continued to contact her privately. Her psychologist in Bolder, CO sent numerous emails to him stating that it was very important that Sharoni be left alone for treatment, which had yet again no affect on Kan. Our lawyer sent a second demand to cease and desist from ever contacting Sharoni again, to no avail. Desperate to stop Kan's communications, I, her father, wrote two emails to the head of Naropa's Art Department, Mr. Wendell Beaver, informing him of the situation and asking him to please talk with Kan about ceasing correspondence with my sick daughter, to which Mr. Beaver later responded, in an untimely fashion, "I am sorry to hear of your problem" and nothing more. I then left two direct phone messages for the President of Naropa University, Mr. Lord, with no reply back, and received the same treatment from his secretary after two calls to her. It seemed as if they just didn't care, or didn't believe the situation enough to warrant their own investigation. Either way, their behavior was completely unbecoming of professional educators responsible for the well being of their students. All this time, Sharoni lived with her husband and her mental condition continued to decline. Kan would continue to contact her, telling her how much he loved her and promising that they would be together "for 40 years and beyond", but of course never doing anything to even remotely act on it. Rather, he kept manipulating her away from her family and friends in order to keep her under his control so he could force her to send him money, which she continued to borrow from her brother. Throughout this time she had many psychotic attacks and eventually ceased communicating with her family all together. This led to two suicide attempts and further hospitalization.
On November 27th I asked the Boulder County Attorney to submit a petition for controlled emergency care, which was then signed by a judge. Sharoni was picked up by the sheriff and taken to Boulder Community Hospital. A court date was set for Dec. 14th for a hearing about the extension of her hospitalization up to 90 days, however, Sharoni convinced her psychiatrist to release her after only seven days. It came to light later that Sharoni, who had no access to a computer or telephone in the hospital, had been in communication with Kan through her Butoh dancer friend, who arranged for them to meet in Hawaii on Dec. 8th. Once again our attempt to provide Sharoni with the proper care failed, as she silently fled to meet him there. When I begged Kan to return my daughter for the treatment she desperately needed, he told me, "I'll keep her in spite". She could still be alive today if only he would've returned her to us in
time to treat her properly. The Boulder judge approved my request for the extended medical intervention, only for Kan to lure my daughter out of the hospital after only one week of treatment. Each time I tried to reason with him he called me a "sick stupid American" (as written in his emails); his insults coming at me without any provocation on my part. When we, her family, worried out of our minds, all tried to contact Sharoni we received no reply, that is until I wrote her that I would contact the FBI, Interpol, and the Japanese police. Only then did she email me saying, "I am ok, leave me alone," which couldn't have been further from the truth. We later found an email from her, written to Kan around this time, asking him, "Do you still love me?" and saying, "You told me you will be with me for 40 years and beyond. You turned me against my family, husband and society. You told me to lose my identity and authenticity in order to be a better Butoh dancer." She said, "I don't have the strength anymore, I hope you have it for the both of us, please guide me." She also stated that she wanted to die. His cold, inhuman reply was that he only loved himself, and that she had up until Feb. 24th to get the money from her brother and send it to his bank account in Kyoto. It is presumed from these communications that Kan remained living with his wife and two children all this time in Japan, yet kept Sharoni there to maintain control of her over her family- no matter how conscious he was of her deteriorating mental condition.
During this time in Japan they planned a dance performance in San Francisco, where Sharoni had yet another severe psychotic attack. Kan then had the gall to write an email to us, asking, "Why did we let her go to San Francisco?" Unbelievably, he was blaming us for allowing her to go there when he knew we had no influence over, not to mention he was the one who invited and encouraged her to go. Most probably, he was worried that he would be blamed for her decaying mental state, and rightfully so. He was to blame, as there was no other logical reason for what had happened to her. To add insult to injury, rather than call 911 to have medical professionals help her, he left her in the street once again like in Copenhagen, crying and broken. When we found out, we asked a close friend of Sharoni's in the area to aid her, and also asked her to try and talk with Katsura about how he can best help Sharoni. She went to where Kan was staying and asked to see him, but he told his followers to tell her he doesn't speak English. She then put Sharoni on a plane back to us in Miami, where we tried to help her once again.
After this traumatic episode, Kan decided to cut her out completely from his life, expelling her from the Butoh dance tour and from the Butoh community as a whole. We thought finally this time there was hope that she could now recover, however, her banishment from him and the world of Butoh turned out to be more than she could bear. Unable to cope with the abrupt separation and desperate to see him once more, on the second week of April, she traveled to Brazil for a preplanned Butoh dance performance. She was hoping to see Kan there, but he did not show. Plainly put, she had become a liability to him and he dumped her, cold and hard like he had done on the streets of Christiana and San Francisco. But this time it would be too overwhelming for her to suffer through. She returned from Brazil on April 20th and tragically committed suicide 5 days later (leaving a note which will remain private for now). Obviously she felt completely let down and abandoned by Kan who had no regard for her feelings. Our last psychologist's assessment of their relationship (a doctor who spent a great deal of time with her) is the perfect short summarization of what happened: he seduced and hijacked her mind, exploited her mentally, physically, and financially, and when she needed him most he abandoned her. Needless to say, we were completely devastated by her death, and still are to this day.
As of this date we have yet to hear one word of sympathy or sorrow from either Kan or Naropa University. The Butoh community as a whole has shut its doors to the incident, with no one speaking out against their beloved "Master" (in a very cult like fashion). As to be expected, there are only Butoh members who are trying to lay the fault on Sharoni, saying it was her childhood or marriage to blame, but they don't know the truth of it. They are just looking to blame anything and everything other than Katsura Kan; much like little children afraid to speak up against an authority figure. I have even received threats from one Butoh member trying to force me into silence against his "beloved teacher", as he called him. I was expecting from the Butoh community, or at least from its mature adult members, a call for truth; a fact finding and truth seeking dialog that would allow me to present all the evidence I have gathered. Instead I see the same silence that Kan imposed upon Sharoni for one and a half years toward her family, which can only be in an effort to cover up for Kan. Fortunately there are some students and dancers, from their own terrible Kan experiences, who are willing to put the blame on him for his wrong doings and join us to stand up for what's right. It is my family's mission in life to make sure that the world will know of this wicked man and be warned about him. We ask that you join us, so that hopefully, he, and those like him, will be stopped before destroying any more lives. To quote Edmund Burke, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing." Please help us in our cause to expose this evil so that we can all help to save some lives.
Father of Sharoni
President of F.A.C.T.