16 July 2019
Nanako, Kurihara. “Hijikata Tatsumi: The Words of Butoh: [Introduction].” TDR (1988-), vol. 44, no. 1, 2000, pp. 12–28.
This essay explores the life and work of founding Butoh dance artist Hijikata Tatsumi. It presents core concepts of Butoh along side Hijikata’s personal history and pedagogy. It pays particular attention to the many oppositions that define Butoh, such as extreme bodily awareness coupled with bodily abandonment, transmutation leading to static matter, or death revealing life.
The goal of the essay is to present Hijikata as a multi-layered artist who resists simple or easy definition. We are reminded that Hijikata was not only a performer and choreographer, but also a writer, teacher, resistor, thief, ascetic, poet, influencer, lover, and sex-worker. The essay also seeks to correct pre-existing Western evaluations of Hijikata which, according to Nanako, are too simplistic and unnecessarily influenced by attitudes surrounding the US bombing of Hiroshima.
How does this relate to scenography?
Nanako does not discuss the scenography of Hijikata’s work, at least in a Western or conventional sense. This is refreshing. She presents Butoh as a total whole, linked in physical form only to the life and body of Hijikata. In a sense, this is a reminder that scenography only exists as part of a live performance or event. The performance lives and dies with a human heartbeat.
I am also interested in Nanako’s discussion of onomatopoeia and “word-sounds” to represent physical states in Hijikata’s teaching. This discussion parallels what I see as the essential dilemma of design for live performance: to create a space that both embodies and represents the event within. In onomatopoeia, a word sounds like a pop at the same as it is a textual marker for one. Similarly, a set can be a ballroom, or look like one, or both.