I talk to Rosana Barra, actress, dancer and teacher of Butoh dance, on how to accept and allow life to flow without projecting our ideas.
The first time I saw Rosana, she had her face painted in white and was wearing a huge blue skirt while performing a strange mix of dance-theater-experimentation in a small courtyard of Barcelona, surrounded by trees, leaves and earth.
Around her, a group of people was watching reverently with absolute concentration, mesmerized by the energy emerging from this woman. A man was playing a soft melody with a bamboo flute. It was Butoh, a form of Japanese dance and theater founded in 1959 by Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno.
Rosana was born in Brazil and has been living in Barcelona for 20 years. She studied theater, but she was always interested in dance as a form of expression. It is in this way that in 1993 a friend recommended her Butoh. An Australian dancer, who then lived in London, visited Barcelona during the summer and was giving classes of that mysterious Japanese dance. Rosana did not hesitate and enrolled in the course.
When the teacher returned to London, Rosana started to research into Butoh. It had fascinated her and she wanted to know more, but at that time this represented almost detective work. Without internet, information was transmitted by word of mouth. She consulted books in libraries and Japanese consulates, attended an exhibition where some videos were shown …
Some time later, the professor returned to Barcelona to settle and Rosana followed her lessons for a year. The training was unconventional. It was unlike anything she had done in dance and theater. They worked with pictures to improvise on them: photographs, paintings, masks or conceptual and poetic images.
The training was unconventional. They worked with pictures to improvise on them.
Through this training she discovered another body, another state, never knowing where she would end up. Nothing like other known techniques. She applied Butoh as a new technique to her theater and dance, and went further, researching on Body Weather, created from Butoh, which uses dance as an expressive means and tool to develop a sensitivity to resonate with the environment.
For 8 years, Rosana has been programming performances of Butoh masters in collaboration with foundations, museums and libraries. During this time, she continued dancing and acting, but with lesser involvement as the task of programming is effort and time-consuming.
From 2015 on, she has returned to devote herself to the dance and teaching Butoh at Laboratorio Escuela, a school of dramatic body expression based in Barcelona. Her students come from dance and theater, but there are also musicians, writers and architects. When she asks them what they are looking for they answer “discover, movement, create”.
From the outside, from a viewer’s perspective, Butoh seems chaotic and instinctive. One of the things that most intrigued me while seeing Rosana dance was how was the preparation, what she was looking for, what she was thinking, if she planned the movements, what message she wanted to convey.
From a viewer’s perspective, Butoh seems chaotic and instinctive.
In a performance, the dancer works on a subject, an argument, but they can also work on a music or even a piece of clothing. It is thus how, in collaboration with other dancers, it was carried out a dance inspired by the mythological character of Penelope. For an hour, she and the other dancers just made three movements. The theme was waiting. On another occasion, she made a performance based on the character of Hamlet’s Ophelia.
However, Rosana warns me that the theme should not be stronger than the time during which the dancer inhabits the theme. The event is stronger. The feeling of taking the place is stronger than the idea. She occupies a place and, in turn, she is occupied by the place.
If we close too much the dance we prevent things or people from telling us things, so being we their vehicle. If the performance is finished we cannot receive inputs from outside. Nor should we be a slave to the music. In this regard, the role of the unconscious is very important as it works for the artist, being guided by reasons unknown by the conscious. We just need to accept it.
If we close too much the dance we prevent things or people from telling us things.
I ask Rosana about what she expects from a performance and what happens when things do not go as planned. Her response makes me feel totally ignorant. Simply, you do not have expectations about how you want a performance to come out. Not working is working. If it “doesn’t work” it is because it had to be like this. When you create expectations you want to catch the situation. It is very difficult not to try to control things.
When you create expectations you want to catch the situation.
What has Rosana learned through Butoh? To grow old. In other types of dance, we fear deterioration, being ugly, not doing it right… But there is no right or wrong in Butoh. You don’t want to be the best. Just being and connect with people and spaces. Butoh is not a routine. Before the performance there is preparation, concentration. It is a moment of great energy. Later, it changes you completely. It is a learning process. It gives you maturity.
There is no right or wrong in Butoh. You don’t want to be the best.
Before concluding I want to know what are her current projects and her answer leaves me perplexed. All her work in Butoh is now based on researching on osteopathy, sociology, shiatsu, ballet and, to a lesser extent, philosophy.
Before my I-don’t-get-it face, Rosana tries to explain it graphically. She puts a paper napkin on a small plate, and pours a little water on it. The paper is soaked. “I’m this napkin. Water is knowledge.” It is not about to represent through the dance what you’ve researched, but to absorb this knowledge, soaking your body and your mind, so permeating your dance with them. “It is not how I want my Butoh to be, but how I want to grow old, how the artistic body can be sustained to do Butoh. There are no future prospects regarding Butoh”.
I say farewell to Rosana with the impression that we all would benefit from applying Butoh philosophy to our lives.
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