Beyond Representation

Jordan & Yoshito
Jordan Rosin trains with Butoh Master Yoshito Ohno in Tokyo, Japan; Photo by Mina Mizohata

Beyond Representation

Throughout history, it has been the fashion of the performing arts to represent things. Through a minimum or maximum of necessary brush strokes, an artist seeks to convey the nature of a thing through signifiers which their audience will recognize. This recognition is powerful and not to be overlooked.

However, the modern theatre calls for a form of art-making which goes beyond mere representation to something else. I propose that this thing towards which the modern theatre is driving is embodiment. Embodiment is the full-of-mystery, living process of co-existing with an image, with the mask of “the other”, held paradoxically inside the container of the self. An ability for audiences to recognize truth still remains, but more importantly a room for transformation, alchemy, mystery has been created. When we care more for the spirit or the essence of a thing than its most obvious signifiers, we have the ability to be surprised! To see the thing anew, to make new meaning, to have new experiences through repeated contact with a thing which – in past times – was only merely a symbol, one-on-one.

Representation is efficient, but reductive. Representation costs less of the actors’ energy, personal resource, physiology, but fails to open spaces for discovery. The modern theatre will require actors to be not only representatives of character, but conduits of spirit and energy! Containers, willing to embody (and disavow) complete, full characters.

And what is a complete, full character? Is such a thing even possible? Is such a thing even to be desired? The discipline of dance, in contrast to theatre or film, has progressed far and attained much without much advancement or attention to the ways in which character is represented. Perhaps then it is simply this channel-ness, this emptiness, and availability, the ability to be – as Shaman’s call – it the “hollow bone” is what is most important. For the expression of – not necessarily character as we know it – but vast and mysterious energy, wonder, and strong impression demands precisely such an opening through which to flow.

This is one of the many things for which I find butoh is great.


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