Work cited:

Nanako, Kurihara. “Hijikata Tatsumi: The Words of Butoh: [Introduction].” TDR (1988-), vol. 44, no. 1, 2000, pp. 12–28. JSTOR,


This is my first time reading seriously about Butoh. My main experience of Butoh has been through its influence on the choreographer Trajal Harrell. Reminder that this post is about an article on Butoh, not Butoh itself.


This essay explores the life and work (both text and performance) of founding Butoh dance artist Hijikata Tatsumi. The reader is introduced to Hijikata’s personal history, the core concepts of Butoh as developed by him, and some of the scholarship and pedagogy surrounding him. Notable artistic concepts discussed in this essay are presented as oppositions such as extreme bodily awareness coupled with bodily abandonment, or transmutation leading to static matter. Or, death revealing life. 

The point of the essay seems to be to present Hijikata as multi-layered artist who, like Butoh, 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, sex-worker and much more. Nanako specifically rejects several Western and historicist evaluations of Hijikata as too limited. They are confined, she says, to the shadow of the US bombing of Hiroshima and fail to recognize the full breadth of Hijikata’s artistic accomplishments.

How does this relate to scenography?

Nanako does not discuss the scenography of Hijikata’s work. She presents Butoh as a total whole, linked in physical form only to the life and body of Hijikata. Refreshingly, Western devices and questions of theatrical presentation do not seem to be relevant. In a sense, this is a reminder that scenography only exists as part of a live performance or event. Its heartbeat stops once the show is over.

I am interested in Nanako’s discussion of onomatopoeia and “word-sounds” to represent physical states in Hijikata’s teaching. Form, shape, appearance, being. This discussion parallels what I see as the essential dilemma of a designer for live performance: to create a space that both embodies and represents the event within. Embodiment and representation. Being and signifying. A word can sound like a pop, or be a textual marker for one, or both. Similarly, a set can be a ballroom, or look like one, or both. The confusing part, I have found through teaching, is that representation and embodiment are not mutually exclusive, nor necessarily related. But often they are. And, honestly, can a set be a ballroom without looking like one? Correlates, opposites or independent variables?

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