Strings/Lines (Upd: Mar 13, ’21)

artist unknown

Strings are at the very foundation of much butoh practice due to the motif of being moved by something (like a puppet master).

Strings can be thought of both in the literal and figurative sense. A string can literally move you, but any qualia/image world/spirit can also serve as the puppet master that attaches strings to somebody.


Linear Strings/Lines

There are two ways of thinking about strings/lines that can move you: (1) Linear Strings/Lines; (2) Non-linear Strings/Lines.

Move as if a string is pulling any various part of the body. You can also change the amount of strings. These strings will move you in one direction depending on where the string is. This type of movement is actually an illusion because no movement can travel completely straight. There is only the appearance of being straight.

Exercise: Cut String

Attach one string to any part of the body and keep the string taut with the body. Something or someone then suddenly cuts the string. React accordingly.

Non-linear Strings/Lines (Non-patterned)

This type of movement is the movement of nature. Like the linear string, you are also being pulled, but you feel the endless breaks of linearity. There is a general direction, but getting there is nonlinear. First play with subtle non-linear strings, where the linear deviation is very minimal, then expand the size.

A non-linear string/line is a deterritorialized line, a line that is fermented, a line that has lost its way, but still has a beginning and end. This line is a line that has embraced scribble.

Figure 1, Non-linear String (aka butoh string)


Non-linear Strings/Lines (Patterned)

A good example of a patterned non-linear string is the coil spring string. In this way, the string has a good amount of shock absorption. Using this qualia can assist in feeling the Noguchi Taiso body.

Exercise 1: Pointing (Body Weather exercise)4

While approaching the other end of the room, point upstage left, downstage right, downstage left, and upstage right. Pay attention to the transitions. Build up the speed. Then do the same exercise while pointing in the directions you choose. Do not forget about above and under. Experiment with how far your body follows the pointing. Much like in butoh strings, you can also butoh point. Butoh pointing has the same premise as the butoh string in that the directions go somewhere but are nonlinear. You can choose between you doing the pointing or a string attached to your finger that is making you point. Use of reduction & regeneration is recommended.

Exercise 2: Pointing With Entire Body

This is an expansion of the first exercise. Now the rest of the body can point. Not only can the obvious things point such as the elbow, feet, knees, lips, eyes, and top of head, but anywhere in the body.

Exercise 3: Body Floor Lines

This is a floor exercise composed of finding lines in the actual body to contact on the floor. For instance, I may draw a real or imaginary line that spans from the underside of my arm, cutting across my chest and winding up on the upper-side of my other arm. This will be the pathway that the body will draw on the floor.

Squaring Circles

This is a Noguchi Taiso inspired exercise. The concept involves putting into a square any rounding or figure-8 movement done in the body, so the body goes into linear directions. The rest of the body has to follow in the passive Noguchi Taiso water dynamic way.

Contemporary Metaphor Theory

In terms of contemporary metaphor theory, strings fit the image schema of FORCE. Image schemas to Lakoff and Johnson are “recurrent patterns in perceptual-motor experience that derive from our bodily interaction with the physical world.”¹ According to SIL International Glossary of Linguistic terms, a force schema entails a force that is “physically or metaphorically stopped or redirected by an obstacle.” They include the following elements:²

A source and target of the force
A direction and intensity of the force
A path of motion of the source and/or target
A sequence of causation

A sub-image schema of force that fits very nicely with strings is ATTRACTION. To SIL, an attraction image schema “is a force schema in which an object exerts a force on another object, either physically or metaphorically, to pull it toward itself.” Examples include: (1) magnetism; (2) vaccum cleaner; (3) gravity; (4) romance; (5) desire.³

Like so many other image schemas, we are bombarded with this schema at all moments of our lives.

Example Qualia-world Lines/Strings

Outside of strings, what else can move you from point A to point B? It can be endless:

  1. You’ve gotten in trouble and your mother pulls you by the ear.
  2. You are very hungry and your nose follows the smell of the food.
  3. You are a piece of driftwood traveling down the river.

String-mentioning Butoh-Fu

The following is Tatsumi Hijikata’s  butoh-fu that makes mention of the eye, and the very last butoh-fu is Kazuo Ohno’s. The majority of the list comes from Waguri translations, unless otherwise footnoted:(1) Quiet House6; (2) Sick Dancing Princess6; (3) Walk of a Measure aka Walk of a Log7; (4) smoke8; (5) Peacock9; (6) Flamen Matiere9; (7) Hokohtai10; (8) Pollen; (9) Prince of Smoke; (10) Your Body Disintegrates Because You Are Being Watched From All Angles; (11) Mechanism of the Person Blowing Thread From His Mouth; (12) Evaporation Process; (13) Various Places; (14) “Tsuru” The Japanese Crane; (15) Strange Man With Frog On His Head; (16) Threads of Drawings of Noble Ladies By Beardsley; (17) Sleep Walker; (18) The Appearance Of The God Maya Made of Nerves; (19) The Wall of Pus Shining In White; (20) “Dozo”, A Storage Building Made of Dried Mud; (21) Flowers In The Wall; (22) From Dry Dirt To Ghost.


¹ Johnson, Mark (1987). The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason, University of Chicago.
² SIL Glossary of Linguistic Terms. Force Schema. 2020.
³ Ibid. Attraction Schema. 2020.
4 Sakomoto, Michael. Chicago workshop. Columbia Dance Center. April 2, 2016.
5 Waguri, Yukio, Butoh-Fu CD-Rom. 2006.
6 Lee, Rhizome. The Butoh. 2017. Pages 120 – 137.
7 Nagaoka, Seisaku. Exploring Japanese Avant-Garde Art Through Butoh Dance Online Course, Keio University. Step 3.14. Video. Sept 2018.
8 Ashikawa, Yoko. Translator unknown. Retrieved by Rhizome Lee with a note that it came from a workshop. Date retrieved: 10/22/2018 at the Subbody Butoh School in Dharamsala, India.
9 Hijikata, Tatsumi. Translator unknown. Retrieved by Rhizome Lee at unknown date. Date retrieved from Rhizome Lee: 10/22/2018 at the Subbody Butoh School in Dharamsala, India.
10 Fraleigh, Sondra H. Dancing into Darkness: Butoh, Zen, and Japan. Pittsburgh, Pa: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999. Print. Page 44 thru 46.