Imagine walking through a forest and coming upon writhing, undulating figures difficult to even call human. They are animalistic and alien at the same time, deeply connected to nature, but definitely separate from it. Some of them have strange tattoos and shaved heads. They are outside of time—you can call them neither historical nor futuristic.
This is the kind of feeling that comes from watching Masha Kharitonova's film Teletourgía, an experimental mixture of butoh, video, and post-industrial music from the Moscow underground. It was released by INRUSSIA, a project devoted to magnifying Russian artistic voices that may be overlooked by mainstream channels. Using Dionysian cult rituals as a stylistic frame, the video explores death and rebirth, pain and ecstasy, destruction and recovery.
The film is divided into four parts, symbolizing "the processes of saturation, mystical ecstasy, and bodily fusion—followed by decay and rebirth." Each has a focus on natural imagery: water, forest, mud, and field. The dancers submerge themselves in these materials, in a way both sensual and frightening. Most of the film is in black-and-white (filmed on satisfyingly grainy 8mm film), but when it switches to color, it seems there may be hope for redemption of these demonic figures. It soon goes back to monotone, however, and the music shifts back to eerie, unsettling noise. The music throughout, by artists KP Transmission and Dritter Verkehsring, is psychedelic and unconventional, creating an atmosphere of unease and confusion. Both artists are inspired by the post-industrial atmospheres of the Soviet Bloc.
Although the dancers (a mixture of butoh and contemporary artists) were mostly improvising, "we had provisory marks which the performers had to reach in their improvisation," Kharitonova tells Creators. "Butoh suits this working method perfectly… Our goal was to address the main principles at the core of this practice but not simply document a butoh performance on video. What I like about butoh is its potential for deconstruction and reconstruction of an image." She wanted to use butoh as a "method of execution" for reconstructing the trance-like state induced at ancient Dyonisian rituals. The ritual madness allowed cult members to reach "ecstatic release and be symbolically reborn." Together with the Japanese dance theater form of butoh, it allows "the unleashing of the darker side of the psyche," shares Kharitonova.
The juxtaposition of a Japanese dance form born from the destruction of the atomic bomb, together with post-industrial music and naked figures in natural settings, are perhaps part of what make this video so wonderfully unsettling. The concept is dark, but very alive: "natural imagery—water, forest, and most important earth—channel that fact that nature is the church of evil. But it's important to stress the idea of damp soil. A seed has to rot at first to be reborn."