Time (Upd: Feb 13, 2022)

“‘Time’ is expressed in Japanese as ‘space in flow,’ making time a dimension of space.” – Gunther Nitschke1

Time comes from space. This manual breaks time into two types, artificial and natural.

Artificial time is the time of the modern world and bears a duplicity illusion. My conjecture is that nothing can be precisely duplicated. Even Aristotle’s Law of Noncontradiction principle of A = A may not take into account time. The first A and the second A exist in different space-times. Though Aristotle may be referring to the original A, there may be something lost in the process. So artificial time has the following characteristics: (1) Illusion; (2) Rhythm; (3) Meter.

Natural time or butoh time on the other hand has no rhythm. Think of the flight of a butterfly. Does the butterfly dance in a specific time like a ballet dancer? Is the butterfly counting? Butoh time has the following characteristics: (1) Lack of rhythm; (2) Nowness; (3) Immediacy; (4) Newness; (5) Chaos.

Tatsumi Hijikata speaks of this natural time in a line of his butoh-fu World of Flowers: “Dancing a flower shows us the joys of changes in time and space.”2

Even though I have classified here two different times, at the end of the day, I feel there is always only one time, and that is butoh time. The so-called artificial time just appears to not be in harmony with nature, but is automatically in harmony with nature. We may just not be able to see it. If anybody were to zoom into any rhythm (e.g. a heart rhythm), one would find that there is not one identical wave function. Butoh just zooms into this concept to make it more obvious.

Exercise: Decresendo/Cresendo in Space

This exercise is inspired by Julie Becton Gillum. From one end of the space, you either begin quickly and decresendo to near-stillness or begin in near-stillness and cresendo to quick.


Don’t miss the train.

We must also develop what we feel is our best use of timing. Tame is a Japanese term that means to wait for the best timing for a particular movement. For instance, Rhizome Lee used the reference of “a shout and a girl – shivering before collapsing,” which is a line in Tatsumi Hijikata’s Quiet House3. Lee explains that there is a particular timing when the shivering gets to such a point (an inner shout) where the collapse is in full resonance or the natural result.

Tame is also connected to Jo-Ha-Kyu, especially kyu. Kyu is the finale or ending, and when someone “finds an ending,” one is also finding their “right timing.” Of course, we can find our right beginning and right transition from Jo to Ha as well.

The Greek term kairos is another word for tame—a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action the opportune and decisive moment (Marriam Webster)

Tame/kairos is connected to 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.”9 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.10 

Performance 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. (shadowbody note: It is encouraged to internalize the set time via one’s internal clock. I call this honoring Father Saturn since Saturn in mythology is Father 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.4

To Akira Kasai, butoh would most certainly fall into symbolic time, or what he calls body time. He notes, “When the dancer transitions from ‘social time’ to the slower ‘body time’, s/he allows passive perception to direct movement, allowing stimuli to ‘call’ him or her in ways that most of us fail to hear and then respond to.”5

In performance art, anything that focuses on a long passage of time (such as 3 hours or more) is called a durational piece.6

Overlapping Time

In Pellegrini’s research on sense amplification and its affect on time, he suggests that the butoh performer may develop the ability to feel overlapping and evolving times (temporalities) acting at the same time. He gives the examples: “the tempo of the body, the plastic skin [a prop used], the studio, the tempo of the music, and that of the silence; […] the tempo of the air con units, of the natural light, of the temperature and the odour of the room and body.”7

We may then see that each and every element of life or qualia can come attached with its own time. How does each qualia change our body timing, whether as a whole or as parts?

The following from Pellegrini are questions to ask oneself regarding time:

1. How can time be manipulated: extended, shortened, textured, paused or eventually denied?

2. What is the relationship between the passage of time and the spectrum of human states which are closely related to time such as euphoria or boredom?

3. How is time experienced by the five senses and articulated in artistic practices that investigate a specific species of time, such as physical, psychological, cyclical?8

1 Brook, Peter. The Empty Space. New York :Atheneum, 1968. Print. Page 7
2 Waguri, Yukio, Butoh-Fu CD-Rom. 2006.
3 Lee, Rhizome. Behind The Mirror: A Butoh Manual For Students. 2010. Page 84.
4 Schechner, Richard. Performance Theory. 1988. Print. Page 6.
5 Kasai, Toshiharu and Parsons, Kate (2003), ‘Perceptions in Butoh Dance’, Memoirs of the Hokkaido Institute of Technology. Page 261.
6 Paul Allain, Jen Harvie, The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Performance, Routledge, 2014, p. 221.
7 Pellegrini, Sascia. Phenomenology Of Time Through Sense Amplification. Ch 2. Time in Dance — Hijikata’s ankoku butoh and the temporal inbetweens of ‘Ma’. 2021. Page 15.
8 Ibid. Page 48.
9 Misopolinou, Anna. Grotowski: Ecstasy and Initiation in Performance. University of London. 2004. Page 71
10 Grotowski, Jerzy. Towards a Poor Theatre. Hoboken. 1968. Page 17.