March 2016



Costume en Face: A Primer of Darkness for Young Boys and Girls by Tatsumi Hijikata, translated by Sawako Nakayasu

Armory of the experience, the human body seems to become increasingly jammed with every new perspective hitched to it. Funnily enough, even the so-called deconstructive viewpoints do nothing more than add to this pulsing construct, up to the point that the human body seems to have lost any contact with its physical materiality, suffocated as it is with pretentious concepts and adjustments, all accustomed to address our mind and not our senses. It's the obscure in our bodies, the unexplored and thus the unknown darkness that many are so keen to link to our "animal-like" nature, that is so passionately left aside, and contemporary dance is no stranger to this approach, either.

At some point, Dylan Trigg in his The Thing: A Phenomenology of Horror tried to snatch the human body from its current prefabricated modules to show that this body of ours should also be grasped as a habitat for the "un-human," for "alien" experiences that are already residing inside us way before we've come into being as "human" forms. It's precisely these sidelined, uncharted territories of darkness nesting in each of us that Butoh (a form of dance theater hailing from the Postwar Japan) tries to resurface, but not before shattering what has become our favorite filter nowadays: judgment, biased or not.    

Mournful face of the rotten boy (Syphilis of the brain)
Nazi officer -- sparring
(Engage with beard point) at the skull
Palsied person walking on all fours
Woman fondling testicles
Child buried in blankets lick fingers ~ lick fingers ~
Gorilla using Pomegranate teeth    1    Feathers on the waist

Butoh's founders, Ohno Kazuo and Hijikata Tatsumi, developed this radical form of Japanese dance partly to oppose the body image and postures that were so keenly imported from the Western dance soon after World War II ended. The Occidental body was beautiful, perfect in its upright position and proportions and, most important of all, young, while the newly born Butoh body was an elemental and noncomplying body, the body of the sick, tormented, crippled, or old that was being constantly pushed to the margins of visibility to the point of being erased altogether.

Even if they kept collaborating over the years, these two key figures also carried on with very different approaches to Butoh. Ohno's version was more ethereal and focused on constant improvisation and intimate vs. universal imagery while Hijikata's Butoh fed from the grotesque and the extreme prowling outside and within the human body. Derived from Hijikata's somewhat cautious endeavors to notate Butoh movements, and handed over as a notebook written by one of the artists he mentored, Moe Yamamoto, Costume En Face: A Primer of Darkness for Young Boys and Girls seems to attempt the impossible: to explain the unexplainable, to translate the untranslatable, to define what cannot be defined. The core content of this notebook was provided by Hijikata himself and was destined to function as a performance script of notations, subject to constant changes according to the performer's own interpretations and Hijikata's minimal directions.

Beast that swallowed a snake 2 iterations  (sea lion)
~ Sucking in a snake
Flower viewed from above
Crumpled up flower
Plants in both hands
(With stone materials)  Deer Butterfly
(Degree of matière)   Pig
Egg (shake ~ index finger ~ bugle)
Diarrhea on the floor (spread with hands)

Consisting of both the original Japanese texts and their English translation by Sawako Nakayasu, Costume en Face is shifting and recomposing itself as you read it in the same way Butoh relinquishes its own essence: amidst aching silences and with hyper-controlled, stylized movements that become slower and slower until you feel that you cannot take it anymore. Each word/line/sketch/drawing expressed by Hijikata and notated by the performer refers to a specific movement of the body, but without functioning as a rigid direction. Instead, the performer is the one expected to embody the "direction," to utterly identify with it and create a specific movement, a sequence of movements and, eventually, a cryptic dance: the Butoh Fu dance. The performer allows Hijikata's exceedingly refined imagery (subversive, visceral, surreal, and extreme) to take hold of his/her body and its nervous system and create new identities accordingly. But the new identities contort the performer's body postures and expressions to the verge of becoming unfamiliar, hideous, unhuman in their violent endeavors to bring off the darkest zones of what it means to be human. It's no wonder that the first Butoh performances outraged conservative Japanese high society in an instant. Flesh-controlling and brain-teasing just like Butoh itself, Costume en Face is not meant for your comfortable reading (or reviewing) but once you resist your own compulsion to fill its empty intervals with reason and explanations, you might end up sticking your tongue out in what is actually a supreme form of Butoh irreverence towards any audience that refuses to let go of its assumptions.

Turning backwards in sleep
Half-turning in sleep, leaving body behind
Shrinking in sleep
Trying to turn in sleep, en face
Commander Child-faced owl
Face filled in and flattened by fear, quick sideways glance
Female role, using hair as menko
[Body flattened like] menko, mouth kaku kaku
Succession not of vibrations, but smell
Koharu 1 iteration
From the stagnation of the one hundred hair demons
Crucifixion of the peacock of pain

Costume En Face: A Primer of Darkness for Young Boys and Girls by Tatsumi Hijikata, translated by Sawako Nakayasu
Ugly Duckling Presse
ISBN: 978-1937027537
144 pages