“Butoh works on a very poetic, visceral and emotional level with its audience. You can experience something very directly from Butoh, though you might not be able to clearly define it in words.” – Frances Barbe¹
Show Space & Poor Theatre
Butoh deterritorializes the idea of stage where a stage can transform to any space (man-made or natural), large, small, and unfixed. Performance on the street, inside living quarters, or commercial zones are possible. Butoh can resonate quite well with Grotowski’s idea of the poor theater, which is a form of stripped down theater that does not rely on lavish costumes or sets, but the actor alone. Grotowski avoided the traditional theater stage and preferred nontraditional spaces such as buildings or rooms.6 The term poor theatre came from Ludwik Falszen to describe Growtowski’s performances.11
In contrast, the butoh company known as Sankai Juku has been criticized in the butoh community for its reliance on elegant lighting, set, and pristine choreography.
The following are ideas that were implemented back in the Himalaya Subbody days. For budget costume ideas see Costume & Lack Thereof.
Because butoh uses extreme subtlety in the body, it oftentimes may be best viewed up close.
Poor Theatre Lighting & Music Effects
If it is dark, various forms of substitute lighting can light up a scene. The possibilities are endless: flashlights, portable lamps, monochrome Christmas lights, candles, or if it’s outside, a bonfire.
Flash lights can be a substitute for a spot, but one must look for the broadest and softest light possible because if the focus is too sharp, it will blowout wherever the focus is with far too much contrast. If there is nothing but a sharp flashlight, then one should shine the light not on the face (or even the body if possible) but beside the body so that the afterglow hits the subject with a faint light. More than one flashlight may be needed. A see-through fabric can also be used to soften the light. If one wants a gel substitute, a transparent tinted vinyl sheet or tinted bag might work.
If one is not utilizing live music, a portable bluetooth speaker can be used. This is especially useful if the performance is a traveling one with a traveling audience. If a venue has audio, it is still a good idea to carry a bluetooth speaker as a backup.
When breaking out of the confines of a traditional studio or stage, we can find that there are endless magical spaces to dance.
“My wanderings […] have an implicit and non-guaranteed goal – legs and eyes sometimes lead to places where it’s as if you fall into another world, where time flows differently, and space itself becomes imperceptibly different.” – Sharley Kornitskaya
Russian butoh artist Sharly Kornitskaya founded an on-going urban exploration project known as dance stalking based in Moscow though open to the world. In the activity, one aimlessly wanders the city in order to discover unique hidden spaces to then dance and document. Regarding Moscow, Sharely mentions that the most interesting discoveries include old courtyards, semi-abandoned industrial quarters, wastelands behind houses, and in narrow lanes away from major roads.13
The activity also brings to mind Guy Debord’s dérive, a psychological happening of spontaneous, rapid passage through various city locals. The dérive utilizes psychogeography which is the study or awareness of the effects of any geographical environment on the emotions and behavior of individuals.14
The goal is the creation of situations which are temporary environments/happenings which act to fulfil a level of authentic human desire.15 To the situationists, modern capitalism created false desires due to the onslaught of advertising, consumerism, and the commodification of ephemeral experiences and authentic life.14 In short, the situationists felt one did not need the crutch of commercialism in order to have a profound human experience.
The liminal space is a location which is a transition between two other locations, or states of being. The modern use of the term is linked back to a 4chan post on /x/ paranormal “post disquieting images that just feel ‘off.'”16
Examples of liminal spaces are hallways, waiting rooms, parking lots and rest stops, abandoned malls or empty school hallways. The effect might feel unsettling yet also familiar. Such locals have a potential of being rich dance spaces since butoh has also been viewed as a liminal phenomenon.
One of Tatsumi Hijikata’s friends and artistic collaborators was Akasegawa Genpei of the Japanese Neo-Dada group Hi-Red Center17 who came up with the concept known as Hyperart Thomasson which is a form of conceptual art. A Hyperart Thomasson is a useless structure or space that continues to be preserved in some way. The structures are accidental, never having the intention of being viewed as an art object.18
Thomassons also have the potential of being viewed as a liminal space and can be great site-specific sceneries for butoh creation.
Genpei also categorized the types of Thomassons such as Useless Staircase, Useless Doorway, Useless Bridge, and others which depend on more clarification such as A-bomb Type and Nurikabe. See the complete list of categories here.
Spontaneous Performance Procession
First developed by the butoh guide Alessia Mallardo, the Spontaneous Performance Procession (SPP) or Resonant Goat originally began as a jogging group hike out into the hills. It can be viewed as a form of butoh jam or nomadic rhizome parade. At any moment anybody (due to resonating), can stop and perform for 1 to 3 minutes at any place along the way which then others will stop to witness as audience. When the performance finishes, the jog continues.*
The SPP is a wonderful exercise in building site-specific awareness and creative dance spaces for butoh. For further development of the spontaneous performance procession (SPP), see the butoh jam page.
Whether or not we’re utilizing liminal spaces or Thomassons, it is highly recommended that butoh dancers acquaint themselves with the street in general in terms of performance.
Street performance boldly drives forth the notion that the butoh dancer doesn’t need a stage, dance studio, or special facility in order to perform, whether it’s choreography or improvisation.
Yet performance on the street can be a daunting task as it can place the dancer into a vulnerable position where the general public will reject, ignore, or even belittle the dancer. This response is due to the general psychology of distrust for anything new or beyond definition.
People might view the dancer as crazy, on substances, or even homeless (depending on the costume), and the dancer will simply have to come to terms with that.**
- When in doubt, slow down, and remember to breathe slowly and steadily, especially through the nose.
- Wear comfortable shoes such as barefoot-style shoes, shoe socks, or no shoes at all. The street often has a hard, concrete surface, so be prepared for that.
- A good makeup/body paint workup, costume, and even prop or two can increase one’s street confidence since it paints an obvious picture that what is being witnessed is an art performance of some sort. To go at it in everyday clothes and no makeup/body paint would be at the level of secret butoh or invisible butoh (inspired by Augusto Boal and Panagiotis Assimakopoulos’s concept of invisible theatre), but then one is certain to be viewed by many as either crazy, on substances, or homeless. But this is also an exercise in fortitude worth exploring if one dares.
The two main types of documentation are video and photography. If you are having somebody document a piece, do not assume anything about their ability to document, especially if they are not a professional. Specify all the details you wish such as: (1) how much intrusion of space is permissible; (2) tripod or not; (3) Zoom/portraits or not; (4) for video, entirety filmed or excerpts; (5) no heads or limbs cut off or other specifications.
For there to be an audience, there has to be at least one observer, and their place is a strange one as Peter Brook mentions: “It is hard to understand the true notion of the spectator, there and not there, ignored and yet needed.”²
The audience placement can take on several forms, e.g.: (1) from a side; (2) surrounding the performer; (3) at the center of the performance; (4) made to follow the performer to another space. Rhizome Lee’s concept of the nomadic rhizome is one example of number 4. In the nomadic rhizome, the audience is made to literally travel with the performers on a journey of endlessly differentiating spaces. By proxy, this gives the performance a strong audience participation aspect. Haunted house type theatre performances also uses this concept.
One can even play around with the amount of audience, such as having a one-on-one performance (one person at a time.)
The time and attention of the observer can be like currency. To Lakoff, two of the conceptual metaphors for time include TIME IS MONEY and TIME IS A RESOURCE.12 We seem to often perform in order to exchange something-to-show for the currency of attention.
The question may then come, why do we want the attention of these people? Who are these people? Are they only here to fill their dopamine-starved quota? The performer may have traveled the depths of the soul, but we cannot guarantee that the audience will take in even a small percentage of that depth. The audience’s experience could even be on par with any other simple thrill like an Instagram swipe serving an endless hole of instant gratification desire.
It is not essential to satisfy the audience, but it is to leave a powerful impression. As Artaud put it, “We are not appealing to the audience’s minds or senses, but to their whole existence.”³ It is also not essential to lay out specific meaning or story for the audience. The most important part is to evoke feeling, not an intellectual response.
Kazuo Ohno explains: “The audience can be moved without having to comprehend all that goes into making your performance. Isn’t that the very reason we dance – to engage the audience on a visceral level? That is why I’m at a terrible loss to hear people talk of understanding my performance. Of course, you can use your brains to think, but when it comes to dancing, just forget all that.”4
Because humans are generally not satisfied with the ambiguous, they often try to impose labels upon it with that of the familiar. So if for instance somebody has never seen or known of Sea lions, and then witnesses one, the witness may be inclined to call it a water dog, mermaid dog, or merdog, possibly neglecting the uniqueness (or third category) of the phenomenon. Geoffrey Harpham calls these inaccurate labels storage spaces for non-things.5 A similar situation often occurs when somebody witnesses Butoh for the first time. Having never seen such a phenomenon, the witness may feel it is a form or corruption of mime, dance, theater, and/or performance art, but Butoh stands alone.
So when watching a Butoh performance: (1) quiet the mind; (2) be open; (3) feel. The type of audience for butoh may be the same type Grotowski desired when he said, “We are concerned with the spectator who has genuine spiritual needs and who really wishes, through confrontation with the performer, to analyse himself.10
Exercise 1: Waking the Ash Man
This is an exercise that deeply ties the performer to the audience. Beforehand, the audience is to make noise and/or movement of any kind. The audience is a direct influence on the dancer who wakes up from ash body (resonates) when there is audience participation.
Exercise 2: Entering/Exiting
This is an exercise in finding as many varying ways to enter and exit a stage/space. Oftentimes, the interesting endings or beginnings are neglected. Essentially, this is cultivating good Jos and Kyus of Jo-Ha-Kyus. Consider also that when one enters or exits the space, the audience is to believe that the activity was already going on before you went on stage and will still go on after one has left.
Deterritorialized & Beyond Human Audience
Deterritorialized audience/guests are one that breaks the bounds of what typically would be known as audience. In performance art, for instance, when there is audience interaction, the audience has stepped outside of the bounds of mere observer and mixed with performer. In this way, they could be called perforbserver, spectactor, or ghouest (host + guest).
A good performer is aware of the audience, and if this is so, has not that performer then also become the spectator of the spectator?
In the butoh jam phenomena, we may really see an audience/performer integration take place. The audience at any moment may join and what would have been seen as performance may the next minute be spectatorship.
What entails audience can also be taken beyond human such as animals, ourselves (such as in the mirror), or as even abstract as spirits or God(s), which expresses the performativity/theater within Bhakti yoga (yoga of devotion). The audience can also be the simple part of ourselves that is observing. Early dance throughout the ages was often a ritual for spirits or gods. Can we make, again, the spirits or gods the audience?
Not everybody desires the traditional clapping of the audience. At the beginning of the show, the audience can be told not to clap or the performance can transition straight into some other form of event such as a party food event and/or butoh jam.
Touching audience members is ethically questionable. Lauren Wingenroth says, “[T]heaters should be spaces where people of all physical abilities and backgrounds can feel safe and respected.”9
Schechner’s 3 Types of Time
The length of time in a performance is broken up into 3 from the performance theorist Richard Schechner: (1) Event time; (2) Set time; (3) Symbolic time. Butoh can play around with any of these.
Event time, when the activity itself has a set sequence and all the steps of that sequence must be completed no matter how long (or short) the elapsed clock time. Examples: baseball, racing, hopscotch; rituals where a “response” or a “state” is sought, such as rain dances, shamanic cures, revival meetings; scripted theatrical performances taken as a whole.
Set time, where an arbitrary time pattern is imposed on events—they begin and end at certain moments whether or not they have been “completed.” Here there is an agonistic contest between the activity and the clock. Examples: football, basketball, games structured on “how many” or “how much” can you do in x time.
Symbolic time, when the span of the activity represents another (longer or shorter) span of clock time. Or where time is considered differently, as in Christian notions of “the end of time,” the Aborigine “dreamtime,” or Zen’s goal of the “ever present.” Examples: theater, rituals that reactualize events or abolish time, make- believe play and games.7
In performance art, anything that focuses on a long passage of time (such as 3 hours or more) is called a durational piece.8