‘Butoh’ performer brings Japanese theater to Costa Rica

January 13, 2015

Suppose you combined kabuki, pantomime, modern dance, and avant-garde performance art. Suppose you added some haunting, atonal music. Suppose you stripped the performers of most of their clothing and slathered their bodies in paint and liquid clay. The result would be something like “Butoh,” the genre of Japanese performance that has gradually spread around the world since its creation in 1959.

“Descent into the Inferno,” playing this weekend at the Butoh Dance Festival, is based on “The Aeneid” by the Roman poet Virgil. In theory, the performance tells the story of the founding of Rome. But under the direction of Costa Rican artist Fred Herrera, this special Butoh performance promises to disorient and confound the viewer. Using intense physical movement and surreal imagery, “Descenso al Infierno” is a very stylized kind of storytelling.

While viewers may struggle to understand the narrative, “Descenso” is a rare opportunity to see Butoh firsthand, thanks to Herrera.

Herrera seems to have lived several lives: He was raised in Costa Rica, moved to France in 1985, studied mime with legendary performer Marcel Marceau, and traveled extensively in the Eastern Hemisphere before arriving in Japan, where he discovered Butoh. He apprenticed under various Japanese artists, and in 2012 he helped create “Tears of Fukushima” with Butoh choreographer Shigeya Mori. Their collaboration concerned manmade disasters in Japan, including the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima.

Back in his home country, Herrera founded the Butoh Dance Festival and has performed his own productions for a Costa Rican audience. “Descenso” is his latest work, following last year’s “Gigante de Sal” (“The Salt Giant.”) To give an impression of what Herrera’s style is like, here is a clip from “Gigante.”

“Descenso al Infierno” will be performed Jan. 16-18 at Espacio Alkimia, “Bodegas Calle Blancos,” Guadalupe. Fri. & Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m. 6,000-8,000 ($12-16). Info: Butoh FestivalDanza Facebook page.

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