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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