Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A dream about my teachers (Looking for the teachings of a brain that knows how to tell stories)

I was very tired, I was supposed to write a text about my work with Butoh; I felt devastated: even though I am a man who has come to maturity and has dedicated himself to the performing arts for many years, I am still like a child when it comes to Butoh... a beginner who, thanks to his background, learns things fast, moves forward without restraint and has managed to find the teachers needed to start a real career in it, but in the end I'm still a beginner. After several exhausting drafts, I succumbed to a nap, the kind that saves one from suicide - even if just metaphorically - or simply from depression.

In the delirium of falling asleep I began to feel as when I was a child, afraid of dying and never getting to grow up, asking to hear voices that would tell me what to do, voices of inner teachers who could teach how to continue with my work and believe in it.  The dream did not disappoint:
I dreamed I was at my parents’ house (a house that is not my house anymore) and that a party was being prepared with the exact layout of furniture as we used to do:  moving it near the walls to have more space and welcome a large group of people. The main guest for this event was famous Butohka Ko Murobushi - who’s never been my teacher -, who was appreciated by all the guests, especially the Europeans, a group of wealthy married couples that were art lovers.  After quite a long time at the party and in a kind of almost erotic seduction consisting of glances between an older man and a young man, I came to find myself sitting next to him, and we started talking.  In his slow, methodic Japanese accent - he spoke in English - he exposed part of his work, that of his teacher Hijikata, and also exposed some personal views.  Nevertheless I sensed he was not telling the whole truth, that something was not quite clear, that he was not talking about his real relationship with him.  I wanted to hear his fears, his desires, his true exchanges with the teacher. He drank constantly (the Japanese I know like to drink a lot), and at some point his talk began to change, and became somewhat distant; then I asked him a direct question about his fears when he found himself all alone once his teacher was not there any more (Hijikata died relatively young, before he turned 60, in the eighties).   Murobushi then began to expose himself in a strange way: his skin flushed like all Asians when inebriated, his speech became ever more difficult to understand, he was slapping the table with his hands, gently but firmly; he was in a trance.  I told him I did not understand what he was saying anymore, and he began to cry; he said that what he was doing - babbling - was what he heard from his teacher, that his teacher was incomprehensible to him, that he was alone, that he had to go on alone trying to discover those words that he had never understood when they were said by Hijikata.  He got up and tried to talk more, but his pain didn’t let him.  The foreign married couple (now there was only one) hugged him, and soon more people came and he was embraced by dozens of guests, being comforted because he was admired.  Me, trying to apologize, explained all I was doing was have a conversation with him.

I really did not know what to do, I did not know what to make of a man I considered a great master of Butoh and who I thought was going to clarify the way I needed by telling me about his own experience.

Disappointed and leaving him while he was being comforted by those foreigners and guests I went to where my family was seated as they used to in the reunions at my maternal grandmother’s place, with all the chairs with the backs to the wall and the old relatives looking into the open space in the middle of the room where the guests stood and the children played: they were there, my mother, my older sister and my teacher Antonio González Caballero, who had the appearance of my grandmother when she was over 90 years old.  He - who was her too - was smiling because of what I had experienced with Murobushi and he tried to explain to me what had happened, and he did it in the same way that my teacher used to do in other situations, but there was a problem, he felt uncomfortable in his seat and he couldn’t explain himself clearly either.  Then I tried carrying him to another more comfortable armchair - his body felt exactly as if it were my mother's body at 80 years old -.  When I sat him into the other seat, his head hit a shelf on the wall, gently, but that was enough for him to pass out because of the blow.  Everyone came to see the unconscious grandmother, and I knew that because of my action my teacher was sleeping - or dying -, I realized he would no longer be able to talk to me. His face was that of my old mother asleep, his sitting was like my maternal grandmother at 90 years old, his presence was that of my theatre teacher.

I had caused such chaos at the party demanding teachings from those who suffered because of them or who were too old or dead to say anything of value to me!

Should I think about a moral to the dream as if it were a story?

Maybe, in the end the brain is the best storyteller we have and it’s inside of us.

Gustavo Thomas © 2013

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Images of transformation in Tatsumi Hijikata's methodology, and the "Elements" in González Caballero's Acting Method.

Tatsumi Hijikata performing "The girl" (Still Photography extracted from a video in Youtube)

Reading the article "Tatsumi Hijikata. The Words of Butoh" by Nanako Kurihara (1), I found a description of an exercise by one of Hijikata's disciples, Ashikawa Yoko, who proposed the dancers (actors-dancers) to transform - through the guide's words and in a continuous guidance of that transformation- into insects formed in turn by thousands of small insects that entered them through their skin pores. (2)

At the beginning, reading this was nothing new to me because I am more than used to guided body transformation exercises, thanks to González Caballero's Acting Method, where 'the elements' ('los Elementos': concrete physical images) enter our bodies and transform us completely.  But it was Kurihara's conclusion that made me stop and think about the importance of that "coincidence" and which prompted me to write this short note.

Here’s the quote as it appears in the book (in its original English version):

"The most difficult part of this exercise was that one had to "be it", not merely "imagine it". This was emphasized in the class again and again. The condition of the body itself has to be changed. Through words, Hijikata's method makes dancers conscious of their physiological senses and teaches them to objectify their bodies. Dancers can then "reconstruct" their bodies as material things in the world and even as concepts. By practicing exercises repeatedly, dancers learn to manipulate their own bodies physiologically and psychologically. As a result, butoh dancers can transform themselves into everything from a wet rug to a sky and can even embody the universe, theoretically speaking (Kurihara 1966)."

Anyone who has worked with González Caballero's Acting Method will recognize and fully understand the text quoted above, especially the description of the transformation through images (in this case guided by a teacher).  The "apoyo Elementos" (Elements) are indeed the same as those 'images of transformation' in Hijikata's method.

The transformation I've experienced using González Caballero's Acting Method is the same I’ve had exploring the Butoh technique, and so I've found it somewhat "familiar", never feeling a conflict between my creative tools on the stage. Antonio González Caballero wanted the actor to transform, and so wanted it Hijkata with dancers, both virtually through the same method; I, working and exploring both methods, have never experienced any problem or misconception.

The ultimate goal of both methods is the transformation through "embodying" what is referred to (during the transformation) through the guide's voice (or sounds), while being imagined by the actor, and making the process of that transformation into a habit. The literature through which both tell the experience is different, of course.

Theatre Anthropology has found certain physical principles in all human activity on stage, it would be important to find the similarities and possibly principles of transformation between the different methods explored during the second half of the twentieth century. If we add to these methods the exploration of physical actions based on the actor-dancer’s inner monologue worked by Grotowski in the sixties and seventies then we could open an even bigger door to discovering these possibles principles of transformation, and thus extend the experience of the artist's creative spectrum.

Gustavo Thomas © 2013


(1) The article "Tatsumi Hijikata. The Words of Butoh" appeared in a TDR magazine edition dedicated to Hijikata (Vol. 44, No. 1, Spring, 2000)

(2) Being stuffed by insects is other version of this exercise. Here the quote of the description of this exercise in the article: “In Ashikawa's class, there were routine exercises. One of them was called mushikui (insect bites). A student is first told, "An insect is crawling from between your index finger and the middle finger onto the back of your hand and then on to your lower arm and up to your upper arm." The teacher rubs a drumstick back and forth across the drum, making a slithering sound. Then she touches those particular parts of the body to give some physical sense to the student. The number of insects increases one by one and finally, "You have no purpose. In the end, you are eaten by insects who enter through all the pores of your body, and your body becomes hollow like stuffed animal." Each insect has to be in its precise place. One should not confuse or generalize the insects even when their numbers increase.” It remembers me the word repeated by González Caballero when he wanted the actors to feel the element inside his body, “retacarse del elemento” (probably the most precise translation be “stuffed”)
In both methods the actor shouldn't react to the presence of the insects, bites or being stuffed by them as if they were acting or suffering the experience in a naturalistic way, instead of it they have to feel the transformation and let it be freely using the images.

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