Costume & Lack Thereof (Updated: 2/20/19)

“The dancer’s costume is to wear the universe.” – Kazuo Ohno

Shironuri is the Japanese term for painting the body white. Tamano Hiroko once said regarding white body paint, “It’s erasing myself. It’s not painting.¹ To Katja Centonze, it can also reflect a stage of death, Pallor mortis, which is also associated with a white color.² Though white is a commonly portrayed color in butoh (for costume and skin color), any color or lack thereof may be used.

In Tatsumi Hijikata’s earlier pieces (1957 to 1961) such as Forbidden Colors, black was actually the color of choice for the body.4

The first use of white was from an experiment entitled Mid-afternoon Secret Ceremony of a Hermaphrodite (1962), which consisted of being slathered with white plaster. Then the white body butoh motif was born.5

Some productions make great use of costumes, some more elaborate than others, while others are more stripped down, reminiscent of Jerzy Grotowski’s ideal of body focus alone or minimalism.³ Rhizome Lee’s Infectuous Fever piece was completely naked and without body color.

An important note about the costume (or mask) is that we shall consider not relying on them 100% for expression or embodiment, unless we have already embodied the qualia within ourselves. This is the same case with expression of emotion. The real dancer underneath is not to be lost.


¹ Calamoneri, Tanya. Becoming Nothing to Become Something: Methods of Performer Training in Hijikata Tatsumi’s Buto Dance. PhD dissertation. Page 97.
² Centonze, Katja. Hijikata Tatsumi’s Sabotage of Movemetn and the Desire to Kill the Ideology of Death. Death and Desire in Contemporary Japan: Representing,Practicing, Performing. Universitat Trier, Detschland; Waseda University, Japan. 2017. Page 214.
³ Armitsu, Michio, From Voodoo to Butoh. MOMA. 2014.
4 Grotowski, Jerzy, Eugenio Barba, and Peter Brook. Towards a Poor Theatre. , 1975. Print.
5 Baird, Bruce, and Rosemary Candelario, eds. The Routledge Companion to Butoh Performance. London and New York: Routledge, 2018. Page 3.