Hungarian Butoh

On the poster of the 2006 Thailand Royal Command Performance there was a photography of a Hungarian dancer. At a casual gathering, right the day before the performance, a Japanese dance critic was wondering aloud if a European artist could be an adequate butoh dancer. Yoshito Ohno answered that anyone can be a butoh dancer whose soul is deep enough, carries a part of her culture, and is able to empty first and then fill herself up with something genuine from her backpack, i.e. from her culture and experiences. Her, I said, as the mentioned dancer is Rita Bata, the first Hungarian butoh dancer. And the little anecdote above offers satisfying answers to some of the questions that might be raised regarding this originally Japanese art form. Even the stage-name of the dancer: Batarita conveys this metaphor of the fusion of everything we are and also a simple gesture of re-composing it.

As butoh is not a mere imitation of something, it cannot be reproduced, so it is not possible to simply copy it. Batarita has an ars poetica that coincides with that of any butoh dancer’s in the world: achieving the perfect emptiness, a state that liberates the dancer from judgements and everyday personal approach; the body is able to act as a channel “via which “only” the wisdom of the universe is flowing through”[1]. There is not one and only conception, interpretation and reading of butoh as every performance brings in its world, art, expression, culture as a definition of the genre. Nothing is more obvious than a dancer of any nation or cultural background should find his/her own way of butoh, and not imitate the Japanese masters or try to resemble them in any way.

This openness and severity of reaching to point zero of the body where energies and the widest concepts of existence can be expressed was a particularity of Batarita’s performances even before she actually met butoh dancing. On a freshly renewed and reborn context of the Hungarian dance field her choreographies bore such particularity that did not meet with understanding for a while.

Carlotta Ikeda, probably at her first visit to Hungary, in 2002 brought an intriguing and highly appreciated performance of hers (Haru NoSsaiten – A Rite of Spring), held a workshop for those interested, and also saw some short works of young Hungarian choreographers. Batarita then presented herself with the same short piece, entitled Yours…? that got her years later invited to the Thai King. Two bald, half-naked girls with long and red flared skirts, barefoot, on bare scene, followed by two spotlights move like sisters, monks, branches of a tree, breeze, being feminine and manlike, flexible and fragile in the same time. The performance lasts less than a quarter of hour; still cathartic. Watching it, Carlotta Ikeda was the first who named the art of the Hungarian dancer as butoh. With a master now, Batarita quickly found her way towards international reputation, towards some other masters and co-dancers like Ko Murobushi and Yoshito Ohno.

Duets and solos are most frequent: three times longer than Yours…? is Innards-flower (2002), together with one of the most gifted and significant Hungarian contemporary dancer and choreographer, Krisztián Gergye, with (the?) some interferences with the first piece. The two dancers are sitting on the floor like two red overblown flowers, with short stray-hair. Their hands and arms and shoulders are moving around the upper bodies for long minutes, relentlessly, and constantly re-shaping their figures in a way that the spectator totally abstracts from the notion of the body and soon really perceives two bending and trembling and shaking flowers. As the two androgenic figure stand up, they soon start choreography exclusively on their feet and legs, showing off the same virtuosity and the same abstraction form the human body again. Music transcends from melodic piano passages to atonal music and actually industrial noises. Movements, dance is in full concordance with the music and noise.

Examples of earlier duos are also Totally Translucent (2001) and Enjoying Light-green (2001); the first experiencing endless ways of connecting, grabbing, clinging two bodies to each other, and the second is like a meditation on parallel planes and movements, on synchrony and connecting and completing bodies, gestures. A short solo Who How Now? (2002) from the same period is an experiment on joints and limbs moving around in ecstatic speed and Light-fog (2002) that evokes later visual master-compositions as Mondrian picture-alike square colour lights play with the dancer in white gown, almost afloat in the air.

Music and noise that follows or leads with extreme sensitivity the pace and depth of dance are created by Kerek István violin player, composer and XRC Kovács Balázs sound artist, computer musician, also seeking for composing and deconstructing music, sound and noise and recapturing them into a new frame of perception. Pettendi Szabó Péter photographer and visual designer is also part of the team, being responsible for the minimal, insightful visual conception and light-design of the performances. Occasionally dancers from other companies or different areas of contemporary dance join Batarita’s productions: besides the above mentioned Krisztián Gergye and Kitty Fejes there is András M. Kecskés, Kitty Fejes, Sonoko Prow, Ihaya Festus, István Hornyák And Zoltán Feicht. As dancer -choreographer she worked with Márta Tatai and the Sámán Színház (Shaman Theatre).

Restricted Area (2005) could be regarded as the most complex work of butoh of Batarita conceived with several artists coming from different artistic fields. The experience can be compared with that of a multi-media symphony, starting with the musicians making sound-noise-music on acoustic instruments and computer as well, and the huge screen in the background on which light-bulbs, shapes, colours and pictures follow each other in a long stream. Compared to earlier and later works of Batarita there is an abundance of props and visual effects. She also directs this time ten dancers. Sequences follow each other like strophes in a long poem: maybe the most memorable is the dancers being tied on long strings coming from the ceiling, trying to move and dance restricted by these artificial umbilical cords while huge chubby babies or dummies appear on the background screen. Technical definiteness, human endlessness – all frames and borders that confine our existence get a symbolical shape here. Exuberance, however, seems to be too explicit compared to the simplicity and transparency of other, more austere pieces.

A recent solo seems to be the peak of the career of Batarita so far. Seasons was started as a site-specific project taking place in nature and composed of the four seasons. Later they have become urban interventions at sites of Tokyo and Budapest, and finally, in 2010 all these series of experiences were gathered and sublimated into one solo premiered at Hooyong Performing Art Center, Munmak, South-Korea, and performed in Hungary, Ecuador, Mexico, Germany and Japan. In Seasons a more than ten years artistic experience takes thoughtful and emotive shape – meaning technical virtuosity and eloquent and sensitive expressivity in the same time. Lights used now in an economical yet fully expressive way, and noises, then contemporary music and then a bit of oriental tunes follow each other in most naturally composed musical themes. There is nothing astonishingly new in this visual-musical composition, monologue of the body. Still, an essence of all we could see so far from her is put in a jar in a delightful composition of nature, body, responsiveness and contemplation. The movements of the body reach to the height of Batarita’s butoh as mastered knowledge of proportion and expression meet here.

In a slow pace, taking almost ten years time, maybe a wider audience – and also the somewhat reserved part of dance and theatre professionals – seem to be open to this very personal and thus very authentic butoh of Batarita. Success came faster and easier abroad; she performed and attended and held workshops at several countries around the world like: Ecuador, Mexico, Germany, Romania, Poland, Slovakia, Thailand, Japan, South-Korea, Sweden, Singapure, Austria, Bulgaria, Macedonia and France. She has also worked on interferences of different art fields: she directed operas at the Hungarian State Opera House (Britten: The Little Sweep, Donizetti: Rita, Cimaroza: Conductor), and held workshops and lectures for students, opera singers, dancers at more higher education institutions.

In 2009 and 2011 two editions took place of the Butoh and Performing Arts Festival with Batarita as curator and artistic director. Gábor Pintér, dance partner at the beginning, later becoming a long-term professional companion and art manager offered relentless help also in organizing this festival with the scope to introduce butoh in the Central-European countries. Lectures, films, round-table discussions and as a main programme several butoh performances of renown e masters – Tomiko Takai, Yoshito Ohno, Ko Murobushi, Akira Kasai Company, Bernardo Monte, Mitsuyo Uesugi, Yumiko Yoshioka, Sonoko Prow, Paul Ibey, Kae Ishimoto – could be seen during the two editions of the festival for a few days in Budapest, and then a part of a programme travels to Bratislava (Slovakia) and Krakow (Poland) too.

With the occasion of the first butoh festival, in mid-December 2009 an unimaginable amount of snow fell down in a relatively short time; public transport and cars got stuck, travelling became very difficult for a few days. One of the programmes was announced up in the hill, in the BudaCastle. Only few could climb up to attend the programme that day; all curious, open and determined. That little group of people has become Batarita’s students, disciples in butoh: like a huge cloud, with extremely slow movements they approach the small stage of the opening ceremony in 2011, short and brusque movements follow and a synchronized, abrupt cry. Laughter and shock, amazement and amusement, tragic and comic, black and white; just like butoh.

[1] Batarita: Philosophy. 2011. Available: (2012.02.28)