Butoh may not be such a well-known performance art, but for some reason it is popular enough in Mexico for there to be a few Butoh festivals, including one we went to in the beginning of April – Cuerpos en Revuelta, at the Museo Universitario del Chopo.
I'm no Butoh connoisseur, but it's just happened that I've watched more Butoh performances that more or less follow Kazuo Ohno's school. Kazuo Ohno was one of the founders of Butoh and, from what I can tell, his style involves a very improvised performance based on internal images. For me, this sort of performance is kind of like seeing an artist do an impressionistic painting live.
On the other hand, there's the school of Tatsumi Hijikata, one of the other founders. He actually did work with internal images, based on his own personal ancestral family history. But then he created performances where we would orchestrate other performers in accordance with his own images. Again, I would say this would be sort of like the impressionistic painter above then having a group of ten people working on making his impressionistic painting on a grander scale. Performers that follow Hijikata's school one way or the other can have very impressive, but evidently (from my point of view) choreographed performances.
Well, I only saw three performances at this festival. The first one I saw had music I found tedious and ridiculously old-fashioned (think synthesyzer-like), visually pretty at some very specific moments, highly rehearsed, and had me dozing off. In my defence, at the end of the performance, I noticed two good Butoh performers sitting in front of me either not clapping or doing so in the most fake way possible.
The second one, on the other hand, was pretty good. This was "Ja yi me ma shi te", by Kumotaro Mukai and Espartaco Martínez, who offered us a very symbolic and beautiful metaphor for the encounter of these two artists from very different cultures - Mexico and Japan. You could also infer this belonged at least in part to the Hijikata school, as how could you otherwise have two performers interact in such precise and meaningful sync unless some choreographic design has taken place? And yet, there were also very intimate parts, especially during the solos.
Finally, we saw Yukio Suzuki, with his piece Evanescere - Cuerpo Volátil. Like Espartaco and Mukai, a fantastic performer, fully in control of his body and of the stage. I wouldn't quite know where to place him, as he does things that are highly choreographed, such as playing with light bulbs at the end of very long cords and which require a high degree of rehearsal and training lest you end up hurting someone. Though visually - and even musically - this was one of the more attractive performances, this was the one that most resembled Butoh as dance instead of as performance.
If I had the chance, I wouldn't think twice about watching both Espartaco Martínez and Kumotaro Mukai perform, either together or independently. But I'm also left with a bit of curiosity of how a festival that relied more on performers of the Kazuo Ohno school would look (or feel) like. And no matter what, it's good learning being able to go to a festival like these and see how different people are doing Butoh in their own personal ways (whether I enjoy some specific performance or not is irrelevant).