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Reviewed by:
  • Costume en Face: A Primer of Darkness for Young Boys and Girls by Tatsumi Hijikata, and: Not knowing by Mike Taylor, and: Concertos by No Collective
  • Stephen Barber (bio)
Costume en Face: A Primer of Darkness for Young Boys and Girls. By Tatsumi Hijikata. New York: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2015; 144 pp.; illustrations. $14.00 paper.
not knowing. By Mike Taylor. New York: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014; 112 pp.; illustrations; $14.00 paper.
Concertos. By No Collective. New York: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011; 50 pp.; illustrations; $10.00 paper.

The Emergency Playscripts series is an innovative collection of volumes published by the Brooklyn collective Ugly Duckling Presse. Each of the five books published so far is concerned with the multiple dilemmas attached to the transcription of performance, choreography, and music, together with the theoretical and conceptual implications of text as the residue of an act. One of the series’ editors, Yelena Gluzman, in an afterword to the most recently published volume, Costume en Face: A Primer of Darkness for Young Boys and Girls, defines her aim as that of publishing performance texts “that lie outside conventional acts of notation” (139). The word “Emergency” in the series title, derived from the series’ origin in a now-defunct performance broadsheet, Emergency Gazette, perhaps implies (beyond evoking the taped vocal “transcripts” of urgent medical situations) a last-ditch effort to seize the traces of performance before they vanish. The series notably probes the uncertainties of authorship (such as that oscillating between choreographer and dancer) and its experimental forms that incorporate the many sources of performance and their transformation into the notation of gestures and words. Such preoccupations are present across the other four books so far published, among them Concertos (2011) by the No Collective and not knowing (2014) by Mike Taylor.

Costume en Face (2015) presents vital insights into the work processes of Tatsumi Hijikata (1928–1986), instigator in 1950s Japan of the ankoku butoh (dance of utter darkness) choreographic form. With its emphasis on imageries of vanishing and effacement, butoh paradoxically left multiple traces and archival materials, enough to fill to capacity an entire floor of a research center building of Keio University in Tokyo. Butoh has been an immense inspiration for many choreographers worldwide, especially since the 1980s, and access to Hijikata’s writings and to the documentation of his work constitutes a crucial aspect of that influence. Costume en Face is the first publication in English of a document drawn from Hijikata’s idiosyncratic working method.

From his work’s beginnings in 1959 until shortly before his death, Hijikata was extensively involved in the medium of film, notably through collaborations across the 1960s with experimental filmmakers such as Takahiko Iimura and Donald Richie, and through acting roles in commercial Japanese horror cinema. He also collaborated with young Japanese photographers in an era of considerable innovation in that medium, undertaking Kamaitachi (Sickle Weasel; 1965–68), a long-term project with the photographer Eikoh Hosoe that was focused on outdoor dance actions in the landscapes of Japan’s remote Akita region and was eventually published as a large-format album. As a result of its relative accessibility, Hijikata’s work in film and photography has often been the pre-eminent source of direct engagement with his work, in Japan as well as in the US and Europe. [End Page 192]

Hijikata’s writings, by contrast, offer a far more demanding experience for their audiences, as well as for their translators. Hijikata’s work entails an extreme resistance to processes of representation and to coherent legibility. Since the publication in book form in 1983 of Hijikata’s sole extended piece of written work—an evocation of his childhood in Akita, Yameru Maihime (Ailing Dancer)—a number of English–language translators have attempted to render it, without success. The TDR special-issue section Tatsumi Hijikata: The Words of Butoh (T165, Spring 2000) remains the most comprehensive set of English-language translation extracts from Hijikata’s body of writings published to date. The present translation by Sawako Nakayasu (who won the 2016 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation for her work on another book), for which she consulted archival manuscripts and interviews...


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