Butoh scholar P Liao breaks down the creative process of butoh into three parts: (1) Emptying; (2) Encountering; (3) Transforming.
“Just as sound is born of silence, calm envelops all movement. The being within the total void allows the body to discover the new strings which will move it.” – Viala J and Masson-Sekine¹
The bowl empties.
We become a transparent or empty body so that qualias can enter freely. The body grows quiet. The ego grows quiet. There is peace or cremation/surrender. The body without organs (BwO) is the same concept, coined by Antonin Artaud. P Liao notes, “with the metaphor of the cremation of the body, Hijikata implies that the body has to cease being itself, that is, no longer being the dancer’s body, so that other kinds of imagery of the world can use the body to present themselves.”² In Hijikata’s words:
Butoh is an external vessel of emptying and refilling. The subject and object coexist in a state of trance. The moment the vessel is brimfully filled up, it (a sort of spirituality) overflows out of it. Just after that it will be intruded and refilled.12
Adding on to this concept, Sondra Fraleigh mentions, “Admitting gravity and letting go of expectations, we may find that grace is indestructible, that we can trust our attention to odd juxtapositions, for life will surely bring the unexpected.”6 In other words, emptying or surrendering is the opening up the set and setting that will allow for creation.
A Cup of Tea is a popular koan directly related to the idea of emptying: “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
Emptying/Quieting is also the second pillar for Akaji Maro’s (founder of Dairakudakan) creation process known as Maro’s Method, which is initial “Igata” of three pillars: (1) Teburi/Miburi (Purposeless Movement); (2) Igata (Mould); (3) Chūtai (Space-Body).8
In the initial Igata, the first mould/container/shell is the now space, emptiness, and ma. Externally, it is a frozen state. Maru calls this space “the gateway to the Butoh world.” He states further, “In this moment all thought is momentarily suspended in a void.
[…] It becomes a kind of ‘falling into’ the state of nothingness, quite suddenly – from a moment of shock or fright [see Teburi/Miburi].”8
2. Encountering/Child Mind
The empty bowl can now let something in.
In P. Liao’s words “Encountering is the way in which a dancer initially acquires a perception of the surrounding environment. Ohno explains that to encounter a situation within an environment is to live through the situation at that very moment without being influenced by habits, preconceptions, or any intellectual considerations, thereby exploring the situation afresh and acquiring a perception of the world.”³ In other words, , “encountering is understood as being made through the empty body interacting with stimuli, movement, and memories.”4
To the Zen master Shenxiu, this may be seeing with a clean mirror. When we really see or really listen, it may be as if we as an individual forget we exist. This is what Nishida Kitarō calls pure experiencing or intuiting.
To the Maro Method, this would still reside in the initial Igata (mould). Maro cites this stage as “the surprised laughter of a Zen Buddhist monk when watching the full moon suddenly disappear behind a cloud, or a baby’s excited gasp when it witnesses a rolling chopstick for the first time.”
“I hold that butoh is most basically a metamorphic form of dance, and it is so in several ways. A primary means of butoh training is through the streaming or morphing of images ever in the process of change.” – Sondra Fraleigh7
To Liao P, “transforming is understood as being completed through arriving at a state of resonance between the bodily posture, gesture, movement, and the image to be transformed.”4 Take a space, as Liao P notes, in transforming, the body will merge with the space and create a personal space. The natural result are personal images within the space that take you.5
Transformation is resonance. What is resonance? In physics, resonance is when a vibrating system or external force drives another system to oscillate with greater amplitude at specific frequencies. The phenomenon happens, for instance, when we match somebody’s tune. Resonance is becoming in-tune.
To Deleuze and Gauttari, resonance is a becoming and there is always something to become. To D & G, “a becoming is not a correspondence between relations. But neither is it a resemblance, an imitation, or, at the limit, an identification.”10 In other words, a becoming is not merely miming or imitating a qualia, nor is it identifying as something (I am this or that), but something else altogether. One can perhaps think of a spirit, e.g. a totem entering or possession. The spirit of any and everything is its qualia. Transformation is resonance and becoming-a-qualia.
Transmutation, sublimation, catharsis, recontextualization, ‘pataphorication, reduction and regeneration, remix, and play can all be forms of this transforming. It can also be the “Kyu” to the Jo-Ha-Kyu. To Stanislavski, the word if can lift us out of the ordinary world, which is a means for reduction/regeneration/edit, e.g. If my organs turned into marbles, then?11
To the Maro Method, transformation would involve both the second pillar Igata (mould) followed by the third pillar Chūtai (Space-Body). While still in Igata, the body from its empty mould becomes various other moulds as if he/she/they were possessed, while at the same time, keeping the initial moulde of stillness.9 This bares resemblance to Tatsumi Hijikata’s vaporized body.
In Maro’s words: “It’s as if the gods have told you not to move, but you are a naughty child disobeying your mother and trying to find opportunities to transgress, whilst still keeping the restriction or tension present.9
Then the third pillar comes into play, the Chūtai (Space-Body), and the boundaries disolve or become porous, allowing for the ma or space to invade.9 Here is where the body may appear to have broken out of the moulde and is being moved by forces all around, and outside merges with inside.