Face & Eyes (Updated: 08/06/18)

“If human beings have a destiny, it is rather to escape the face, to dismantle the face and facializations, to become imperceptible, to become clandestine, not by returning to animality, nor even by returning to the head, but by quite spiritual and special becomings-animal, by strange true becomings.” –  Deleuze & Guattari¹

The face may represent a symbol of code, a stratum crafted by our culture, which we often have to fit into. We must rebel and cut these habits. To D & G, “dismantling the face is the same as breaking through the wall of the signifier and getting out of the black hole of subjectivity.”²

Frances Barbe emphasizes the importance of the face in butoh: “The use of the face often reveals self-consciousness and tests if dancers can really commit to something fully, such as a big smile, or a distorted face and, crucially, to keep it alive when asked to maintain it for an extended period.”³

An example of a completely deterritorialized face would be one that is obscured, dysfunctional, or dead. What is the look of the face planted on the floor? This is Tatsumi Hijikata’s floor face from his butoh score (butoh-fu) Quiet House.4

In butoh, the face takes the place of the mask. In butoh, the face is a de/reterritorialized mask called the living mask.

Exercise 1: Face Koan

What was your face before you were born?

Exercise 2: Finger Face Mirroring

This exercise was noted by Maurreen Momo Freehill and involves the face mirroring the shape and qualia of fingers in front of it.


“What is a tic?” asks D & G. “It is precisely the continually refought battle between a faciality trait that tries to escape the sovereign organization of the face and the face itself, which clamps back down on the trait, takes hold of it again, blocks its line of flight, and reimposes its organization upon it.”²

Become friends with the facial tic, a form of facial shock, an isolated shock. Shock is one of the Four Butoh Spices: (1) Shock; (2) Sway; (3) Collapse; (4) Die.


The face is closely associated to emotion. It is recommended to identify emotions past the basic happy, sad, and angry. There are many more:

Affection, anger, angst, anguish, annoyance, anticipation, anxiety, apathy, arousal, awe, boredom, confidence, contempt, contentment, courage, curiosity, depression, desire, despair, disappointment, disgust, distrust, ecstasy, embarrassment, empathy, envy, euphoria, fear, frustration, gratitude, grief, guilt, happiness, hatred, hope, horror, hostility, humiliation, interest, jealousy, joy, loneliness, love, lust, outrage, panic, passion, pity, pleasure, pride, rage, regret, remorse, resentment, sadness, saudade, schadenfreude, self-confidence, shame, shock, shyness, sorrow, suffering, surprise, trust, wonder, worry.

Important: To not get lost in the outer form, once a particular feeling is recognized, swallow the emotion and then resonate with how the body reacts while also being mindful of typical facial expression associated with the feeling. This is not repression of emotion, but the opposite. If after this, the facial expression or gesture still comes, resonate with that too.

Exercise 1: Deconstructing Emotional Response

Because there are certain facial expressions related to a feeling, we want to train ourselves to go beyond this. The physicality of an emotion may seem universal, but there can still be a cultural influence. For instance, if one were to give a teeth-displaying smile to a monkey, this could be taken as a sign of aggression because to them teeth means being ready to bite, hence an act of aggression. We can thus shift the physical response to any emotion. If for instance, we go into the qualia of horror, we can utilize a facial expression not associated with the qualia of horror.

Exercise 2: Emotional Face Chimera

This is a chimera exercise where one part of the face gives one emotion and another part another. For instance, the mouth can exhibit deep disappointment and the eyes, euphoria.

Emotion Fermentation

What is in an emotional expression? The typical facial expression can be seen in everyday life or in movies. Mainstream actors know these facial expressions. In butoh, however, we may not be too interested in the surface meaning of things or general associations. This is why I like to use the analogy of: (1) Juice; (2) Wine; (3) Brandy.

Let juice be the ordinary facial expression, e.g. fear. We then take this emotional expression and swallow it so that it can ferment. The question is, what will turn this juice expression to a wine expression? Is there something even more that can show us fear without the literal facial expression? Perhaps this is your secret. Is it new wine or aged wine? Can we take the process further into distillation? Can we make brandy? If so, will the brandy be a new brandy or an aged brandy?

Perhaps the aged wine and aged brandy will take years of letting the expression sit. This is your process.

De/Reterritorialized Face

When the face is deterritorialized, it leaves the usual function of the human and moves somewhere else in the body (gets reterritorialized somewhere else). What if the torso becomes a face? Can you make a face with the torso? What if the hand becomes a face? What kind of facial expressions can your hand make?


“It is possible to make a superb dance with the eyes alone.” – Tatsumi Hijikata

People often say that the eyes are the windows to the soul for a reason. The eyes are one of the main filters of our experience.

Just like any position in butoh, if we are to do them, they are not to be forced just for aesthetic or anti-aesthetic (grotesque) purpose, but because it’s a natural manifestation out of what is already happening inside.

Human World Eyes

Watching Eye – This is the typical, everyday social or behavioral stratum of which is a starting place for deterritorialization or reduction & regeneration.

Emotional Eye – The eyes (with the assistance of the eyelids and eyebrows) can embody all the emotions. The main emotions are happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.

Closed Eye – It is easier to go inside the body with eyes closed. Only one eye can also be closed.

De/re-territorialized Eyes

The rest of the eyes on the list are deviations/deterritorializations/reductions & regenerations.

Glass Ball Eye – Like a doll’s eye, these eyes are immobile. Place your gaze near the horizon. Or you can form a parallel line from eye level to ground without placing attention to any particular area, but all the area in your field. At the same time, do not build an interest in the field. Eyelids are relaxed. Pupils do not move. Try not to blink too much, and if you do, let it be a subtle flash. Third eye can be focused on instead.

Joan Laage says of this eye: “[its] diffused or non-seeing focus allows the head and, in particular the face, which in the West is so communicative, to be equal to the rest of the body.”5 Deleuze and Gutarri even mention this eye: “I see that behind the sockets of the eyes there is a region unexplored, the world of futurity, and here there is no logic whatsoever. […] The gaze is but secondary in relation to the gazeless eyes.”¹

White Eye – Relax the eyelids and look up at your third eye. The goal is to appear with only white eyes.

Crossed Eye – Extend your arm in front of you. Look at your finger as you bring it between your eyes. This is the position of your cross eyes.

Half Crossed Eye – Do the Crossed Eye (See Above), but then straighten out one eye. This may take a bit of practice but it is doable.

Rotten Eye – The eyes are dysfunctional and moving in random directions as if it were taken over by bugs. This is a very good example of a nearly completely reduced or deterritorialized eye.

Thunder Eye – Look side to side then pick up the speed till you reach a vibration/tremble effect with the eyes.

50/50 Eye – Close your eyes half way so that you see half dark and half light. Be 50% inside and 50% outside.

The focal spot ranges from way far in the horizon to our own body. The eyes can also be useful with on-the-spot qualias if we resonate with objects or persons that we see literally.

Traveling Eyes Any of the deterritorialized eyes above can result in traveling eyes. Yoko Ashikawa proposed eyes to travel beyond the front of our skull, but to the “crotch, back, and so on,” and further still beyond the body.6

The natural result is transformation, becoming or embodying various qualias. This is because eyes are associated with personality. So the eyes in/on/of something is a becoming of something. So say one’s eyes float out to a tree and now the tree has eyes. We will have automatically been engaging in becoming the tree and making it a person.


¹ Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Continuum, 2004. Page 171. Print.
² Page 188
³ Barbe, Frances. The Way of Butoh and Contemporary Choreography: Reflective. Writing on Choreographic Research. n.d. Web. 20 April 2010.
4 Lee, Rhizome, Behind the Mirror: Butoh Manual For Students.
5 Laage, Joan Elizabeth “Embodying the Spirit: The Significance of the Body in the Contemporary Japanese Dance Movement of Butoh.” Ph.D. dissertation, Texas Woman’s University, 1993.
6 Shibusawa, Tatsuhiko. “Hijikata Tatsumi ni tuite” (About Tatsumi Hijikata), a commentary of Yameru Maihime (The Dancer of Sickness), Hakusuisha, 1983. Page 231.