Identity & Character (Upd: Nov 13, ’22)

“Life is provocation for releasing our sacred selves, and butoh opens up this irritation to my most intimate self.” – Diego Piñón¹

Let’s view the person in three ways: (1) Shadowbody; (2) Cobody; (3) Nobody. Like performance art in general, butoh is preoccupied with the self, but specifically focuses on the body/psyche.22, 23 


Shadowbody/The Secret

We might as well call it the shhhbody. Inherently, it’s vague and cloudy, and may even be what Stewart Chase called a semantic blank: an abstract word without a discoverable referent.25 Shadowbody means the subconscious body, but can also mean the first person, Self, or Atman. Shadowbody can be associated with depth or the hidden. The mental, emotional, and somatic aspect is one (no mind/body dualism). The shadowbody is also a rhizome.

For the purposes of this manual, the shadowbody (subconscious body) is merged with Freud and Lacan’s views of the unconscious without all the limiting sexual and patronal association, which keeps it from being rhizomic (multi-dimensional).

Aki Yo

Hijikata specifically mentions the subconscious:

“Something is hiding in our subconscious, collected in our subconscious body, which will appear in each detail of our expression. Here, we can rediscover time with an elasticity, sent by the dead. We can find Butoh in the same way we can touch our hidden reality. Something can be born, can appear, living and dying in a moment.”16

Another way to view the shadowbody is the dreambody, even the daydreaming body. To Hijikata, this was the obscured bodyclouded body, and the naked bleeding body30; to Akaji Maro (of Dairakudakan), the miburi; to Min Tanaka, the sea within;18 and to Deleuze and Guattari, the virtual.19 This is even the vaporized body. It can the liminal/ma space.

Yes, things can get vague and abstract. To the surrealists, automatism, often irrational. To Artaud, it was the Interior Theatre or The Double: “My inclinations urge me on to ‘Interior Theatre,’ theatre of dreams incarnate, of thoughts projected on the stage in a pure and unhindered state.”11, 17 Geoffrey Galt Harpham (of On The Grotesque) links it to myth/primitive narrative.13

Put in another perspective, the shadowbody is the qualia cloud surrounding one’s body or memories that latch on to one’s being. It is inherently a mystery or big secret to others because everyone has a different history.24. This secret is butoh’s magic ingredient. It might even be a deep dish pizza, the deep fake. We can recall Nietzsche’s words: “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”

When we are struck by the realisation of the secret or mystery, are we in surrealisation?

When we find a very deep shadowbody (shin), we may run into the bottom body or kan (that which is most difficult to resonate with), which is also a deep mystery. This is also the deep shadow or the behind world, which is the starting place for major shadow work. The bottom body can be imagined through a series of images or sayings: (1) “rock bottom”; (2) genie’s lamp; (3) “new low”; (4) edge; (5) threshold; (6) “no escape”; (7) trigger; (8) the cruel. In the words of Kazuo Ohno: “Rather than analysing your movements…push yourself right to the very edge of sanity… Our dance becomes godlike once the ghosts of the universe surge forth from the depths of our consciousness.”²

To Antonin Artaud, this would be the realm of the cruel and essential theatre where something immediate or bloody real finally happens, a “hungering after life, cosmic strictness, relentless necessity, […] a living vortex engulfing darkness, […] a necessary pain without which life could not continue.”12, 21 Everyone will have their own personal bottom body or shadowbody limit/wall/edge. Due to the mind/body connection, the bottom body may be instigated by physically forming into one’s idea of the weakest, most physically twisted, or uncomfortable position.

Edge/deep shadow related butoh-fu: Flower of Kan

When the shadowbody itself is deterritorialized, it can turn into cobody or nobody (see below). For instance, my arm (mine which is associated with ego), can turn into somebody else’s arm, leg, emotion, or a number of qualias.

Shadowbody as Multiple

“Rather than searching for a hidden true self, one should attempt to shape one’s life as a work of art, proceeding without recourse to any fixed rules or permanent truths in a process of unending becoming.” – Foucault29

It is encouraged not to necessarily link the shadowbody to the concept of True Self. Instead, the shadowbody can be thought of as the ma/liminality zone of inspiration or creativity which in itself is constantly transforming. It is not one body, but multiple. It may even expand to be expressed as one’s birth to current life narrative with all its dark or forgotten points.


Cobody can mean the second or third person, the other, or Brahman. Cobody is more than one subbody and involves the human relationship channel. When the subbody is deterritorialized, it can enter into cobody, a SHADOWBODY = COBODY.


Nobody is completely impersonal and up for interpretation. Sometimes subbody may become cobody and possibly even nobody all at the same time. Nobody can also be ambiguous or anonymous. The question of nobody is raised, for instance, when reading a Buddhist text such as the Heart Sutra. Nobody can also be one individual’s bottom body. Nobody can be associated with The Void or Abyss. It has also been called Enlightenment’s Evil Twin, but can also be positive associated state of Buddhist Emptiness.

The following comes from the Russian absurdist writer Daniil Kharms entitled The Redheaded Man:

There lived a redheaded man who had no eyes or ears. He didn’t have hair either, so he was called a redhead arbitrarily. He couldn’t talk because he had no mouth. He had no nose either. He didn’t even have arms or legs. He had no stomach, he had no back, he had no spine, and he had no innards at all. He didn’t have anything. So we don’t even know who we’re talking about. It’s better that we don’t talk about him any more.³

Nobody can be the shadow of the sbadowbody, or the shadowbody’s shadowbody. This can be thought of as the edge of the concept of the shadowbody itself. Nobody can even represent deconstruction (see section Semiotic interpretation). Nobody can also be a bit boring.

Contemporary Metaphor Theory

The term and concept of shadowbody might provoke the primordial image schema LIGHT-DARK which then can lead into the primary metaphor of BAD/UNKNOWN/DANGEROUS IS DARK.26  “Bad” nor “dangerous” have to be the case however as we can de/reconstruct our idea of dark. Soil is dark as is a nurturing night’s sleep.

Image schemas to Lakoff and Johnson are “recurrent patterns in perceptual-motor experience that derive from our bodily interaction with the physical world.”27


In Claudia E. Cornett’s words, “Characters initiate and carry out the plot.”8 In Butoh, there may be vague line between character, persona, and the shadowbody. The three may even merge at times or be a mode of influence by each other, expressing false separations such as the mind/body. Rachel Rosenthal says of the distinctions: “In acting, or playing a character, you want to impersonate the personality of a person that is not yourself. A persona, however, is an artifact, a fabrication, that corresponds to what you want to project from yourself, from within. It is like taking a facet, a fragment, and using that as a seed to elaborate on. It is you and yet not you – a part of you but not the whole. It is not a lie but neither the full truth.”9

Richard Schechner sees no difference between the two distinctions. “‘Me behaving as if I am someone else’ or ‘as if I am beside myself, or not myself’ […] may also be ‘me in another state of feeling/being,’ as if there were multiple ‘me’s’ in each person.”10


We want complex characters, characters that are already an entire world.

Whether persona, character, or both, the most important thing is that we attempt to reach from within the shadowbody or from a place of high imagination. Then a multidimensional character may be created that engages or is engaged upon and results in complex acting. To Michael Kirby, “the whole being of the performer – physical, mental, emotional – is called on at a high level of commitment. Acting becomes increasingly complex the more elements are used in constructing the characterization.”20

Generally, characters in the theater world are of human qualias, but characters in butoh do not need to be human. Tatsumi Hijikata was not only a dancer, but a poet, and was constantly documenting his discoveries and characters. Characters can be pulled by the shadowbody or from the surface via the will to create. I recommend crafting a list of character names (the more creative the name, the better). You can even follow them up with descriptions.

Exercise 1: Character Transformation

Performer transitions from Character A to Character B. The gradient between is very important to feel.

Exercise 2: Owning Your Name Calls

Take some time to remember any names whether positive or negative that you were called in life. These can be used as your  new characters. The character can even take on that of a bouffon.

Exercise 3: Naming the Mundane

When we give animate or inanimate objects names, we bring their character to life. It is an identification of the object in question. For instance, name the trees around you. The more creative, the better. If a particular tree provokes another qualia because of its shape or form, this can inspire a name. After a name has been given, a personality or character is created which can be danced.

Exercise 4: Naming All Your Characters

Play close attention to your dance and if there is one type of character that comes out, name that character. The list can grow rather quickly as we are full of all different characters/subpersonalities. You can also make the titles of these characters creative, and maybe some have secondary titles. Here is an example of one of my characters: The Hermaphrodite Who is Slowly Spiralling into the Underworld like a Dying Rose or Mother Mary Dying a Thousand Gentle Deaths One After Another.

Power Human Character Tropes That Provoke Butoh

As shown by the Shadowbody YouTube found footage series known as Butoh in Real Life, certain characters can provoke or inspire the feeling of butoh. Tatsumi Hijikata in his own butoh research was known to get inspiration from marginalized society. He was inspired by the sick or debilitated bodies he found not only in the Tokyo streets but the broken farmer bodies he recalled from his youth in the countryside. These are characters that anybody can identify with in some way.

  1. Drunk and/or drugged
  2. Very old
  3. Baby
  4. Differently abled mentally and/or physically
  5. Those experiencing movement blunders, e.g. slipping on ice for 15 seconds
  6. Health emergency
  7. Very sleepy, e.g. sleep deprivation, sleep walking, sleep paralysis
  8. Religious/spiritual possession
  9. Those in tantrum/freakout

If these tropes are then also combined in various ways, one can find oneself with some mammoth of a butoh being.

These characters are also examples of the minority within everyday life, where the majority can be sobriety, legal age (but not elderly), healthy body, blunder-free, tantrum-free, nor sleep-deprived, while spiritual or religious affects stay behind doors. Though these aspects of life are still very much human, they contain within them great potential for creation or becoming. They are examples of cracks within a dominant system.

Deleuze & Guattari saw the majority as a constant, a standard of measure assuming a state of power. In this state, there is a lack of becoming or creative potential. The becoming occurs instead at the minority, the variable or deviation, which is a subsystem of the majority.31

These characters can also be a familiar entry-point into the world of butoh for those who have never done it before, yet also be rich for those who have engaged with it.

Character & Contemporary Metaphor Theory

A conceptual metaphor for parts of the self in universal language are that of distinct individual people: ASPECTS OF THE SELF ARE DISTINCT INDIVIDUALS.

The source of the metaphor (source domain: individual people) is mapped onto one’s self (target domain: self). Examples given by George Lakoff: “(1) He’s at war with himself; (2) His scientific side is at odds with his artistic side.”28 

Social Identity

Everybody has multiple identities within the social world (family, gender, age, vocation), but we must know how and when to shed these. Within the butoh world, all of these limiting stratums (forms) are generally deterritorialized (escaped). In performance, we are all or beyond age, gender, race, and familial bloodline (family and race being especially arboresque, a tree hierarchy instead of a multidimensional rhizomic structure).

reduction/regeneration or de/reterritorialization of our socially-conceived age, for instance, can be either about shifting between them or not acting our age (being very old or very young). We can also play at the hermit or shaman that breaks free from family relation.

As butoh dancers, we can identify as creatures and use the pronouns it/it.

Another example can be how socially, we know to keep a certain amount of space, but the deterritorialized or reduced space taken to its extreme would be the uncomfortable squeeze or in terms of audience relationship, uncomfortable personal space invasion, breaking of the 4th wall.

Semiotic Interpretation

Because the shadowbody, like everything in this manual, utilizes language to express itself, the concept of Shadowbody can also collapse under its own feet. The reason this happens can be explained via the post-modern thinker Jacques Derrida’s critical analysis called deconstruction.

Deconstruction is founded on the concept that all language has a shaky foundation. Deconstruction knocks down the concept of logocentrism. Logocentrism is “the orientation of philosophy toward an order of meaning – thought, truth, reason, logic, the Word – conceived as existing in itself, as foundation.”4 Shadowbody can be one such foundational concept which is also not transcendental or immune to collapse. Else, this form of butoh would be just another religion where the new God is Shadowbody.

But before feeling like the entire manual have been undermined, there is a consolation. If indeed all is ambiguous and/or makes no difference, this certainly does not take away the ability for play. Playing is still optional. It is a coincidence that another word for “theatre” is “play.” For Derrida, all is the play of difference. Difference is “defined by its relation to what it is not rather than by its essence.”5 In other words, difference means that the momentary or semblance of meaning is derived from everything which the concept is not like the term “apple” defined by other words that are not “apple” and then those terms defined by terms that are not those terms. Is there a word that sits by itself, needing no definition? Not to my knowledge because a word would cease to be a word. “Shadowbody” is not immune.

Children play as if their play is at the moment the case, so why can’t we? Shadowbody can simply be utilized as a tool to remind or allow us to attempt to go deeper, and so possibly creating a more preferable performance. Whether or not it is illusion is arbitrary.

There are many ways to reach an intention, and if we have to “fake it to make it,” so be it.


Who is doing the moving? Will is ambiguous. However, the will may be closely related to in-the-moment awareness.

Exercise 1: Owning Automatic Responses

Allow yourself awareness for any automatic impulse such as twirling hair. scratching, biting tongue, and own it in one of three ways: (1) Negate the action; (2) Copy the action exactly and repeat the action; (3) Exaggerate the action.

Exercise 2: Sigil

See section sigil.


“Attempts to get rid of the ego can easily result in one-sided development, fostering both self-importance and a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. Avoiding the so-called ‘dark’ aspect of human desire results in a shallow caricature of human potentiality, a blandness which avoids plumbing the depths of the psyche.” –  SKaRaB, SNaKe, Sister Apple & Bro. Moebius B6

This manual takes an integrative or taming approach to ego. Though ego here is defined as the concept of self, identity, or the “I,” the concept may still remain ambiguous. What exactly is “I” and “self?” Everyone’s definition may vary. Some may want to destroy ego, but because there is ego in desire, there is ego in desiring to destroy ego. So instead of getting lost in the terminology or judgement, humility is preferred. Availability for learning and receiving is the most important aspect, whether or not an elusive ego is in the background or not.

That being said, desire is often linked to ego, and so is the concept of moving ourselves. Generally, what is sought after in butoh is something else moving us. For this, ego and desire need to be tamed. To Sri Sri Ravi Shankur desire is “not now, not this – that and then,” and so gets in the way of love or Divine Love/bhatki (100% Life Resonance) that limits presence.14

To Swami Bhuteshananda, there is a mature ego (what Ramakrishna calls ripe “I”). This ego is specifically for Divine Love/bhakti. (Divine Love is 100% love towards Source/God/Universe or 100% Life Resonance). He notes: “The ripe ‘I’ . . . feels, ‘I am God’s devotee.'”15 In other words, I am devoted to 100% Life Resonance/Universe/Source, etc.

Try out this psychodrama related to the immature ego: Ego Feast.

Mirror Use

Unlike other movement forms that make great use of the physical mirror, its use in butoh is downplayed. The mirror (like any tool) can be used for assisting body conditioning, e.g. learning neck isolations, but outside of this, it is best to not use it. Outside of being associated with the ego, the mirror can be too distracting. We might get too easily stuck in a particular form and forget about the subbody.

Kate Parsons further notes:

The mirror seduces the dancer’s focus outside of him/her, leaving the ability to focus inwardly untapped. Watching one’s body in the mirror relies on vision, the sense we tend to exercise most, thereby failing to exercise the dancer’s ability to invoke the perceptual capabilities of other senses, such as the olfactory and auditory capabilities, and especially the tactile.7

Exercise 1: No “I,” Two Weeks

This is an Aleister Crowley exercise that lasts two weeks. To the best of one’s ability, one is to omit the first person–”I,” “me,” or “myself” from communication. For instance, if somebody asks you how you are, you have to answer without using the first person. In my past of doing this exercise, I have answered the question of “How are you?” with “It’s a beautiful day outside.” If you accidentally slip and say the first person, you should negatively reinforce yourself in some way like snapping a rubber band on your wrist. You can also make use of positive reinforcement. If you go a whole day without slipping, treat yourself in some way.

A further form of this exercise involves not even thinking the first person for two weeks.

Exercise 2: Vow of Silence

For however long, take a vow of silence. This is excellent for focusing in on the subbody.

Exercise 3: Butoh Fashion Show

Having trouble pruning the ego? Try this exercise here.


Thought appears to be closely related to ego and words, e.g. “I think therefore I am.” With thought, there is generally judgement and dualistic logic such as good/bad, subject/object, etc. Unless thought is engaging in poetry or imagery, it is best to quiet the mind by cultivating humility in order to focus more on the feeling and moving body.

Exercise: No Opinions, Two Weeks

This is another Aleister Crowley exercise and involves not having any opinions for two weeks. You will have no judgements and have nothing to say about much other than whatever it is certainly exists. Negatively reinforce yourself upon making mistakes.

¹ Fraleigh, Sondra. Butoh: Metamorphic Dance and Global Alchemy, Illinois, University of Illinois. 2010. Page 193.
² Ohno, Kazuo, and Ohno, Yoshito. 2004. Kazuo Ohno’s World from Without and Within.
Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.
³ Kharms, Daniil (2009): Today I wrote nothing –The selected writings of Daniil Kharms. Translated from the Russian by Matvei Yankelevich. Ardis Publishers. New York.
4 Culler, Jonathan, After Structuralism, Ithaca: Cornell  University Press. 1982.
5 Auslander, Philip, “Just Be Your Self: Logocentrism and difference in performance theory.” Acting (Re) Considered. London. 2002.
6 SKaRaB, SNaKe, Sister Apple & Bro. Moebius B, Apikorsus: An essay on the diverse practices of chaos magick.
7 Kasai, Tosiharu and Parsons, Kate, “Perception in Butoh Dance,” Memoirs of Hokkaido Institute of Technology, No.31, 257-264, 2003
8 Cornett, Claudia E, and Katharine Smithrim. The Arts As Meaning Makers: Integrating Literature and the Arts Throughout the Curriculum. Toronto: Prentice Hall, 2001. Print. Page 233.
Rosenthal, Rachael, “The Death Show,” high Performance 2, 1:44-5. (1971). Telephone conversation with author, 8 october, 1984.
10 Schechner, Richard, “Introduction: Exit Thirties, Enter Sixties,” Between theater and Anthropology, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 1985. in Erika Munk (ed.) Stanislavski and America, Greenwhich, CT: Fawcett. 1966.
11 Artaud, Antonin. Artaud on Theatre. Edited with commentary by Claude Schumacher. 1989. Page 61.
12 Ibid. Page 107.
13 Harpham, Geoffrey Galt. On the Grotesque. New Jersey. 1982. Print. Page 54.
14 Shankar, Sri Sri Ravi, “Narada Bhakti Sutra: The Aphorisms of Love.” 2008. Bangalore. Page 7.
15 Swami Bhuteshananda. Narada Bhakti Sutras. Kalkata. 2009. Page 88.
16 Bergmark, Johannes. Butoh -Revolt of the Flesh in Japan and a Surrealist Way to Move. Stockholm. 1991.
17 Hornblow, Michael. Special Affects: Compositing Images in the Bodies of Butoh. Masters Thesis. 2004. University of Technology, Sydney. Page 23.
18 Ibid. Page 25.
19 Ibid. Page 122.
20 Kirby, Michael. A Formalist Theatre. 1987. 3, 6–7, 10, 20.
21 Artaud, Antonin. The Theatre and its Double. Paris, Gallimard, t. IV. 1964. Page 37.
22 Schechner, Richard. Performance Studies: An Introduction. 3rd Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print. Page 158.
23 Caldwell, Thomas Shane. Butoh: Granting Art Status to an Indefinable Form. Masters thesis. Victoria University of Wellington; 2017. Page 52.
24 Hijikata, Tatsumi. Sick Dancing Princess, Translated by Rhizome Lee. 2017.
25 Chase, Stuart. The Tyranny of Words. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966. Page 14.
26 Forceville, Charles. (2017). From image schema to metaphor in discourse: The FORCE schemas in animation films. Page 15.
27 Johnson, Mark (1987). The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason, University of Chicago.
28 Lakoff, George. Aspects Of The Self Are Distinct Individuals. Conceptual Metaphor Home Page. 1994.
29 Foucault, Michel. “An Aesthetics of Existence”, in Michel Foucault: Politics, Philosophy, Culture, edited by Lawrence D.Kritzman, pp. 47–53, New York: Routledge. 1988.
30 Hijikata, Tatsumi.  To Prison. TDR (1988-), Vol. 44, No. 1 (Spring, 2000), pp. 43-48.
31 Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (2013). A Thousand Plateaus. Bloomsbury Academic. Page 105, 106.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email