Sacred & Ecstatic (Upd: Apr 24,’22)

“A man in trance carries God in himself.” – Anna Misopolinou1

Eric R. Dodds, an ancient Greece civilization scholar, spoke of ecstasy as a state implying overwhelming joy and rapture; it may involve feeling outside of oneself or possessing a profound change in one’s personality.

Abraham Maslow termed these states peak experiences.³ During these experiences, people will feel like their true selves.4 Experiences that are less intense can lead to pure enjoyment and happiness, but the more intense ones can lead to a symbolic death and rebirth.

Returning to an inner truth or self (or root) is at the heart of Grotowski’s third phase (and last phase) of theatre known as the Theatre of Sources or “active culture.” This phase occupied itself with sacred performance. The term “source” denotes origination such as what some may view as God, nature, spirit or presence (and if one wishes to be secular, then genes). Techniques were developed for returning to this “source” which took inspiration from eastern and shamanic techniques but were not to be copied.Rather, the actor was to become a visionary of techniques. In Grotowski’s words: “Let us say that there exist techniques of sources [e.g. qi-gong, kundalini yoga]. But what we search for in this project are the sources of the techniques of sources, and these sources must be extremely unsophisticated.”6

To Grotowski, achieving a connection to source was also like returning to childhood: “When I talk about return to the state of the child, I have in the background of my mind some indefinable memory: plunging into the world full of colors, sounds, the dazzling world, unknown, amazing, the world in which we are carried by curiosity, by enchantment, experience of the mysterious, of the secret.7

Similarly, Jesus said in Matthew 18:3: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The workshops of Kazuo Ohno (who himself was a Christian) often had spiritual themes. When foreigners came to his workshops, he would often give theme lines such as “Dance in the heavens. Dance in hell. Dance in the heart;” or even “dance in konpaku,” a Japanese concept of a riverbank where the dead and living peacefully cross (similar if not the same place near death experience people describe that is an transitioning place and timeless).10 

Exercise: Life Drugs, High On Life

One way to reach an ecstatic state is to see life itself as a drug. Life drugs can be administered in various ways which can be snorting, huffing, or smoking. Concentrate your nowness and snort, huff, or smoke it. Dance the result.

Praise & Bhakti Body

Can dance be a prayer?

Bhakti is one avenue to the ecstatic body. Bhakti as a term that originates from Indian spirituality and denotes divine love. It is one pathway/technique to source.

Bhakti can be expressed through pooja, which is a ritual offering of one’s self. When somebody is engaging in something 100%, they will be offering their entirety. It is a surrender/sacrifice and where being moved comes into place. This is sacred performance and what Grotowski called the work of the holy actor.

When this is especially directed at one’s view of a totality or an origination (e.g. Life itself, God/Source it/her/himself), it is called bhakti.

Can the altar be the dance floor/dance space?

Yoshito Ohno once noted about his father that expressions such as “God is great” or “Thank you” are not vocalized by Kazuo, but shown from his butoh.11 

The evangelist Christian devotional phenomena of anointing is a great example of how ecstasy can come from praise or bhakti. This ecstasy or fire is viewed as the holy spirit or spirit of God and is delivered by the pastor. The same energy with or without an anointing pastor can grow into a praise break or shout with a dance of sacred ecstasy.

Similarly, ecstatic trance-like states can occur with other religions such as Hinduism (e.g. Hare Krishnas) and Sufism via devotional mantras, dancing, and/or swaying.

Exercise 1: Source and/or Higher Self Moving You

We move as if we were controlled by our higher self, guardian angels, ancestors, holy spirit, or even Source/God. We can be moved as if we were a puppet or conduit.

Exercise 2: Resonant Prostration or Sujud

This is a body gesture of showing reverence to Source/God in a prone position. The muslims, for instance, call this the sujud, which they enact toward the east. Prostrating is a beautiful whole body expression of honoring Source/God. Find your own resonant prostration.

Exercise 3: Prayer from Every Body Part

We may associate how hands can pray in prayer hands but how can each part of the body pray in their own way?


1 Misopolinou, Anna. Grotowski: Ecstasy and Initiation in Performance. University of London. 2004. Page 143.
² Dodds, Eric R. The Greeks and the Irrational, California: University of California Press, 1951, p. 77.
³ Maslow, Abraham. Towards a Psychology of Being, New York: Penguin, 1962, p. 73
4 Ibid. p. 103.
Wolford, Lisa, and Richard Schechner. The Grotowski Sourcebook. London: Routledge, 1997. Print. P. 267.
Ibid. p. 262.
Ibid. p. 260.
Maslow, Abraham. Towards a Psychology of Being, New York: Penguin, 1962, p. 15.
Grotowski, Jerzy. Towards a Poor Theatre. Hoboken. 1968. Page 35.
10 Nakajima, Natsu. ‘Ankoku Butoh’, Speech at Fu Jen University Decade Conference, Feminine Spirituality in Theatre, Opera, and Dance, Taipei. October 1997. Translated by Lee Chee-Keng in 1997. Revised by Elizabeth Langley in 2002.
11 Ohno, Yoshito. Ohno Kazuo: Tamashii no kate (Ohno Kazuo: Bread/Food for the Soul), Tokyo: Firumua tosha. 1999. Page 23.