Presence (Upd: Aug 20, ’22)

“One must give oneself totally, in one’s deepest intimacy, with confidence, as when one gives oneself in love. Here lies the key. Self-penetration, trance, excess, the formal discipline itself – all this can be realized, provided one has given oneself fully, humbly and without defense.” – Jerzi Grotowski¹

Butoh is about getting lost in a moment’s detail, eventually finding one’s way out, then losing yourself again to something else.

Presence is related to butoh scholar P Liao’s 2nd stage of butoh creation she calls encountering.20


Presence presents presents. Presence is resonance or presonance. It can bring to mind awareness and can be associated with grace or flow.12 It may also be synonymous with intensity (which is not necessarily about physical strength and/or speed). It is the life blood of performance.

This manual links presence (resonance) to the “yes” part of the improvisational theatre “yes, and.”

One way in which Grotowski expressed resonance was by the term brotherhood (which we can also call sisterhood). He has named, for instance, the brotherhood of earth, senses, the sun, touch, the milky way, etc.19 Essentially, the brotherhood could be of any qualia.

(Un)fortunately, the term presence like many others in this manual is vague and ambiguous, e.g. butoh, essence, shadowbody. Stewart Chase, writer of The Tyranny of Words, would have likely labelled it another semantic blank: an abstract word without a discoverable referent.17 But that doesn’t stop us from going forth anyway. Ambiguity, after all, may be directly related to its magic.

According to Peggy Phelan, presence entails a “convincing,” “commanding,” and “captivating” nature from the performer.14

If there is no presence, there is no show. When you appear in the performance space, you are to hijack the audience. Nobody can look away. As Artaud says, “the theater, like the plague, is a crisis which is resolved by death or cure.”² Give all (sustainability granted), or don’t give anything.

But how do we get to this intensity? Through focus. Focus might be the root of presence. When our attention or energy is dispersed in many directions, we lose presence. Presence is sharp and goes in one direction. If we feel a subtle tendency or qualia, for instance, we enter into it with our entire being. Anything less is not a show. For instance, even when we feel there is nothing more to give due to a sick or dying body, a massive presence can be generated by the awareness of the last piece of string keeping us alive.

Note: Visually, if we want to focus, we do not necessarily need to engage any particular point in the room, but it is highly recommended to utilize glass ball eye. That way, the focus is vague vision upon the entire viewing field or horizon. This may instigate great shadowbody resonance.

Aki Yo

100% focus can paradoxically make it so that one is being moved instead of one being the mover. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says of this 100% focus, “If you are 100% in an activity, then you become free from the activity. . . . Desire is not being involved in 100% action.”6 In 100% activity, the ego (hence desire) is quieted. Something else happens altogether. We surrender. We enter into a becoming. To Ravi Shankar, desire is “not now, not thisthat and then.” So presence ≈ now. Be engaged in hereing (hearing the moment). Some may even call this a form of prayer.

According to Suzanne M. Jaeger, the individual who achieves presence has a special capacity for spontaneity.13 We may then see that we not only need focus, but also spontaneity, which seems paradoxical. I call these two forces combined the definigmatic.

One major attribute of presence may be the idea of immediacy, the closeness in reaction time to stimulus, inside or out. Grotowski alluded to this via the term the psychic process: “[T]he result of such a process was the elimination of the time-lapse between inner impulse and outer reaction in such a way that the impulse and the outer reaction were concurrent.”18 This is an element of total act. To Grotowski, when these actions (impulse and action) come together, the actor’s body burns away thus allowing for a new attained mental and physical ability that conquers fear.21 

Having good immediacy or the psychic process can lead to such magical phenomena such as synchronicities. 

In regards to the improvisational “yes, and,” if “yes” is presence and “and” is improvisation/acting, then good immediacy or the psychic process is the conjoining of “yes” with “and” or “sy” (pronounced sí, the Spanish si and y together).

There is a difference between being totally present and trying to be totally present. The latter is like an exercise, a means to the child-like state of encountering/experiencing which is being totally present.*

Rhizome Lee always made mention of the concept of 50% inside, 50% outside which means that half of our attention is internal and the other half is external. This way, we are not neglecting the outside world nor the inside world.

Exercise 1: Coning

Visualize a cone with a tiny hole the size of a needle at the very end. Take this cone and put it on whatever qualia one is embodying and gradually send the qualia down the cone toward the point/vertex. The closer it gets to the point, the more intense and concentrated it gets. Eventually, it will get to the little hole in which case it will be as a laser.

Exercise 2: Every Moment is the Ultimate

Dance every millisecond as a gift that is sacred. If there were a photographer, every shot would be the ultimate shot.

Exercise 3: Intensity Switch

Have the participant engage in a familiar strenuous or passionate activity whether physical, emotional, and/or psychological. At your signal, the participant suddenly stops and shifts to a qualia which has already been established either by you or them. It is very important that the shift is immediate and there is no lag or thought in-between, else there will be a leak of intensity.

Peter Brook once said, “Imagine one hundred blind people listening to you. The fact that you swing on trapeze, is irrelevant. But the impulse which takes you to the trapeze should be in what you say.”³ In other words, it’s granted that we are intense or real about something in our lives. We can take that underlying intensity and transpose it onto something else.

Exercise 4: Bleak Vapor

This is a vaporizing exercise where the participant is either in stillness or movement. The participant will be given a series of qualias to experience within the vapor, but they will all be harsh environments. In each circumstance, the stillness or movements of the 3d body will not be affected outside of a subtle but powerful shift in presence due to continuing the identical movements despite the circumstances. Here are example vaporized worlds that increase in intensity: (1) There is a terrible hurricane; (2) The world is made of only lead; (3) The abyss or void opens which nothing escapes.

Exercise 5: 10,000 Copycats

This is another vaporizing exercise, but now involves 10,000 duplicates or 10,000 parallel worlds of yourself. In each world, each of you follow the exact stillness or movement you are currently engaged in. Essentially, you have an army of 10,000 reinforcing your every movement.

That is the first part of the exercise. The second part of the exercise calls for a signal so that the 10,000 of you instantaneously absorb themselves into your 3d body.

Exercise 6: Echo

Move with an echo, so there is an accentuation of movement.

Exercise 7: Inside & Outside Synthesizer Knob (Intermediate)

This exercise draws upon the concept of 50% inside and 50% outside which is about placing equal awareness to what is happening inside the body but also outside. Because we now have two variables (inside and outside), we can set up the synthesizer knob. Scale up and down starting from 0% to 100%, e.g. 100% outside, 0% inside → 70% outside, 30% inside → 50% inside, 50% outside, etc.

Exercise 8: Microtones (Advanced)

This can be easier to apply to choreographed pieces. In a piece of which one is very familiar with, one can build the attitude that on top of the piece (like a microtone), there is always improvisation. This improvisation happens due to the present environment which can either be internal or external.

Love & Bhakti as 100% Presence

“Butoh is just a word for dancing from the heart.” – Yoshito Ohno9

To Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, love is 100% presence in something (and a retiring back to Self)or as Rhizome Lee may see it, 100% resonance. This is the same as a complete becoming. When one truly resonates with a mountain, for instance, one may forget about one’s own self that is observing. One is lost in the mountain. One is not that actual mountain, but one can say one is becoming the spirit. Then one can be said to be in love at that moment.

Grotowski called this type of actor the holy actor. This actor possesses the “the attitude of giving and receiving which springs from true love: in other words, self sacrifice.”15 He further expresses, “One must give oneself totally, in one’s deepest intimacy with confidence, as when one gives oneself in love.”16

Pooja is a ritual offering of one’s self. When we are engaged in something 100% it is as if it is an offering of one’s entirety. It is a surrender/sacrifice and where being moved comes into place. This is sacred performance. When this is especially directed at one’s entire world (e.g. Life itself, God/Source it/her/himself), it is called bhakti. Sacred performance is bhakti. Bhakti is divine love.

Pooja in this sense is as Rhizome Lee’s 100% life resonance. Shankar notes further:

‘I have been given this universe. [N]ow I offer the universe back. I have been given this body and every particle of this body[.] I am offering back to you. You gave me this world and I offer this back to you. And I am yours.’ This intense feeling of offering, merging, giving everything to the Divine – every bit of it is called Pooja.8

The you mentioned in the quote can be God, Source, Infinite Space, Ever-existing Uncreate, Atman, Brahman, Buddha, Universe, The Great Mystery, etc.


When do we know a performance is a performance? Outside of having at least one audience member, which we can also view as one or more persons simply being communicated to, we can broaden the concept of performing itself.

To Richard Schechner’s concept of Restored Behavior, performance entails any “organized sequences of events, scripted actions, known texts, scored movements [that] exist separate from the performers who ‘do’ these behaviors, … [so] the behavior can be stored, transmitted, manipulated, transformed.” In other words, the communication or action is repeatable or has the ability or intention to be performed again.4 Restored behavior is also known as twice-behaved, coded, or transmittable behavior.10 Restored behavior also include habits, rituals, and life routines.11

Though we may think of some performances as not repeatable such as dance improvisation, improvisation still relies on retrieving and organizing known material.

In Eelka Lampe’s Performing/Not Performing model, there are different modes of performance separated into two classes, social and aesthetic, which also have the ability to feed off each other or merge.5


Self Not Performing – Little awareness/nonconscious, feeling unobserved, and not meant to be precisely repeatable such as being seen going out for a walk or smoking a cigarette. (Shadowbody Note: When we have expanded the concept of not performing to that of performing, we have entered into the territory of Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Here, we can risk developing something drab or non-stimulating to the audience or it can be rather interesting used in a way of showing contrast.)

Personality Creating a Self  Aware/conscious, communicative, feeling observed, and not meant to be precisely repeatable such as having a conversation or telling a joke.

Social Persona Performing a Part of Oneself – Consciously trained, communicative, feeling observed, and precisely repeatable such as working as an airline host/hostess (Shadowbody Note: When the airline host/hostess goes over the safety regulations, they even engage in mime.)

Self in Ritual  Either aware or not aware, either consciously or nonconsciously trained, either unobserved or observed, and also repeatable. This is as trance dancing. (Shadowbody Note: This is a common goal in butoh. As one can see, it has the potential to blur the line between performing and/or not because there may come a point where the qualities of Self Not Performing are mirrored–that of little awareness/nonconscious.)


Self in Play – Non-conscious/little awareness, feeling unobserved, and not meant to be precisely repeatable such as playing a video game with somebody or movement improvisation in a workshop.

Character Acting/Creating an Other Self  Conscious/more aware and meant to be repeatable, communicative, and feeling observed such as playing Hamlet in a theater production.

Aesthetic Persona Performing a Part of Oneself – Conscious/aware, communicative, feeling observed such as Kabuki stage attendants.

Techniques of Virtuosity Transforming the Self – Conscious/aware such as acrobats.

Eelka Lampe further notes:

A performer constructing a character might draw on aspects of her/his own self, personality, or various social personae. The reverse can also be true: a personality can be a fictional character of one’s own construction. The same holds for the fabrication of a person’s social personae. Both the social and the aesthetic personae can be built from very private aspects of the self. And, conversely, a person’s social persona might be displayed while s/he is playing a self-absorbed game. Performing is a mixture and/or a layering of several of the model’s “pure” stages.5

As one can see, the question of what makes a performance is a complex one and is best pondered on one’s own.

Focus Cultivation (Symbol Method)

Everything we do must start from somewhere and what better place is there to start than a neutral place of readiness as explained in detail in filler, idle & scribble and heavily encouraged by artists such as Jerzy Grotowski (the neutral mask). But because the potential field may be difficult to focus on at all times, we can utilize the symbol method as a placeholder or starting ground to compensate for monkey mind or lack of concentration.

If we are not utilizing the cultivation of chaos/potential/filler/scribble, then this practice is to be taken up indefinitely throughout the day. This practice works with (instead of against) our possible “ADD” or monkey mind. We can think of it as a palate cleanser such as coffee beans may be for smelling different fragrances. This method is a personalized version of everyday focusing methods utilized by many cultures such as prayer bead work, god or guru images, or mantra repetition.

1. Pick one symbol familiar to you. The simpler the better, but you must highly enjoy or resonate very heavily with it. For instance, one can resonate very heavily with the symbol of two spheres together. Once the symbol is chosen, do not switch to another. This is the symbol you always return to.

2. Feel all the varying aspects of the symbol (refer to vision & perception). Especially feel how it looks, tastes, smells, and sounds. For instance, my two spheres take the form of Chinese iron balls, so I can hear the chime, feel the weight and roundness, smell the metallic smell, and see its luster, along with many other aspects. One is to get to the point where the symbol is effortless to focus on because it resonates so much with our core being or subbody.

¹ Grotowski, Jerzy. Towards a Poor Theatre, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2012.
² Artaud, Antonin. The Theater and Its Double. New York: Grove Press, 1958. Print. Page 40.
3 Selbourne, David. Quoted in The Making of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. 2011. Page 101.
4 Schechner, Richard. Between Theater and Anthropology, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 35-37. 1985.
5 Lampe, Eelka, “Rachel Rosenthal Creating Her Selves.” Acting (Re) Considered. Routledge. p. 300, 301. 2005.
6 Shankar, Sri Sri Ravi, “Narada Bhakti Sutra: The Aphorisms of Love.” 2008. Bangalore. Page 7.
7 Ibid. Page 6.
8 Ibid. Page 26.
9 Fraleigh, Sondra. Butoh: Metamorphic Dance and Global Alchemy, Illinois, University of Illinois. 2010. Page 32.
10 Schechner, Richard. Performance Studies: An Introduction. 3rd Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print. Page 52.
11 Ibid. 34.
12 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (New York: Harper, 1990), and Finding the Flow: The Psychological Engagement with Every- day Life (New York: Basic Books, 1997).
13 Jaeger, Suzanne. Embodiment and presence: The ontology of presence reconsidered. In David Krasner & David Z. Saltz (eds.), Staging Philosophy: Intersections of Theater, Performance, and Philosophy. University of Michigan Press. Page 123.
14 Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London: Routledge, 1993), 115–17.
15 Grotowski, Jerzy. Towards a Poor Theatre. Hoboken. 1968. Page 35.
16 Ibid. Page 38.
17 Chase, Stuart. The Tyranny of Words. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966. Page 14.
18 Misopolinou, Anna. Grotowski: Ecstasy and Initiation in Performance. University of London. 2004. Page 71.
19 Ibid. Page 142.
20 Liao, P. An Inquiry into the Creative Process of Butoh. City University London. 2006. Page 59. Print.
21 Grotowski, Jerzy. Towards a Poor Theatre. Hoboken. 1968. Page 17.
* A type of memory revisits me occasionally from elementary school. A mundane memory, yet a rich one. I remember all the times when workbooks were passed out which led to a multi-sensory present experience. I remember being drawn by the colors, gloss, smell, sound, and pictures. I would have added taste if it weren’t for the social ramifications (which is what molds human domestication).
The actual subject matter in those workbooks usually were the least of my curiosity. The teacher may have thought I was not present to her agenda, but I was present in every other way.
Children appear to naturally be in this multi-sensory world, the world of props (chairs are not chairs, etc.). We may dismiss this as something we have gone beyond or something too simplistic, but perhaps it’s at the root of enjoying life, meditation (awareness), and peak experiences. So perhaps we have to go back then when we got lost in the stimulus in an embodied way. Then we might rediscover more of an improvisational, multi-sensory, multi-resonant body.
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