Mundanity & Gesture (Updated: 01/07/18)

General mundane movements involve throwing, picking up, setting down, pulling, pushing, and turning. Whereas specific mundane movements are everyday movements like brushing teeth, drinking a cup of tea, or planting seeds (for a farmer).


Exercise 1: Intensity Cultivation

This exercise builds intensity or presence in the seemingly non-intense or mundane. When we dance, we must be able to pour laser-level awareness into the action. Begin by engaging in an activity that is physically, mentally, and/or emotionally impactful or energetic. At the sound of a signal, the energy is immediately transferred to the mundane activity. Do not have judgments or preconceived notions of the mundane activity, just immediately enter into it straight from the prior high intensity activity.

Exercise 2: Abstraction

Brainstorm one specific everyday movement that resonates. Slowly perform this movement for two minutes or so, then gradually begin modifying this movement to the point where it enters into near abstraction with only the tiniest string linking back to the original source.

Exercise 3: Part Shift

Have the participant find one single mundane movement in the body that resonates with them. Now, with this exact same movement, instruct the participant to switch to another body part. It is also recommended to modify the movements by utilizing various qualities or reduction & regeneration by X.

Exercise 4: Movement Pun

The movement pun is heavily used in clowning and shifts the context of a movement. For instance, a mundane movement such as a hugging action or qualia can shift into one of exploitation or grabbing more than one needs. Holding the head (see further in Gesture) can be both a sign of confidence but also catastrophe. Can one also enact catastrophic confidence (which may be a paradox)?

Exercise 5: Everyday Mundane Object Ritual

This is an exercise to do everyday or for a period of time and cultivates resonance with the mundane. It is also connected to a form of object resonance  known as deifying. Each day, find one mundane object, e.g. paper clip, rock, bubble gum wrapper, or a coin, and place this object on an altar or area of reverence. The exercise can also provoke any of the other various object resonances.


Human gesture can be used for inspiration and deconstruction or avoided altogether. Gesture is the body language passed onto us by culture and the animal kingdom ancestors. Awareness of gesturing movement is vital in order to conceal or express our intention and/or to limit the humanness of performance. It is highly recommend to practice gestures with reduction & regeneration by X.

The following is a list of behaviors and their general associated body signals:

Openness/respect/acceptance: open hands, bow, hand to heart, prostration.

Defensiveness: Arms/legs crossed, locked ankles, clenched fists.

Expectancy: hand rubbing, crossed fingers, reaching.

Evaluation: Hand to cheek, head tilt, chin stroke, pacing.

Suspicion: sideways glance, turning head.

Secretiveness: nose rub.

Doubt/uncertainty: side of neck scratch, shoulder shrug, open palm shrug.

Disbelief: eye rub.

Nervousness: Fidget, ear tug, nail biting, pant tugging.

Insecurity: patting/folding hair.

Distress: hand on head, hand on heart.

Aggressiveness/frustration: hand on hips, stomp, tightly clenched hands, wringing hands, fist-like gestures, pointing index finger, open hand down, palm to back of neck, kicking ground or imaginary object.

Beauty presentation: face platter.

Confidence: hand steepling, hands joined at back, elevating oneself, back lean with hand supporting head.

Boredom: Head resting in hand, blank stare.

Exercise: Palm Up

There are varying types of gestures associated with the palm up to the sky. Depending on context and other qualifying factors of the body, the upward facing palm can mean confusion, surrender, begging, holding, and/or reverence.

Raise your arms up like you are pushing the sky. Drop your hands but keep the palms facing up the entire time. Naturally, your arms will form a spiral downward. Then vary your arm locations (e.g. open palm to the side). Visualize that you are holding a rock or a dish that you do not want to drop.

Gesture Fermentation

What is in a gesture? The typical gesture can be seen in everyday life or in movies. Mainstream actors know these gestures quite well. 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 gesture, e.g. an eye rub for disbelief. We then take this gesture and swallow it so that it can ferment. The question is, what will turn this juice gesture to a wine gesture? Is there something even more that can show us disbelief without the eyerub? 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 gesture sit. This is your process.

Semiotics of Gesture

Like any system of signs, body language according to semiology has a signifier (vehicle) and a signified (driver).¹ In this case, the gesture is the signifier and the associated meaning, the signified. Certain gestures have certain associations which are fostered by one’s culture. This is why the meaning behind certain gestures like hand signals in one culture can differ in another. Because generally butoh does not appear to depend much on gesture (as perhaps an art like mime would), we could say butoh is an art that shifts signifieds. In other words, butoh can be a strong meaning shifter.

Exercise 1: Gesture Deconstruction

This is basically a meaning shifting exercise, so that we can shift the usual meaning away from a particular gesture. For instance, we can pick any gesture associated with insecurity, so we go into the qualia of anything but insecurity. This exercise can train our ability to stop relying on signifyers with predetermined meaning. In butoh, we are the ones creating new meaning (signification).

Exercise 2: Stealing Gesture

This is a gesture transition where Character A’s end gesture is taken over and used as the beginning gesture for Character B. One can also try not waiting for an “end” to steal but outright stealing at any moment. Stealing will imply that only one character will have the gesture at a time.


¹ Saussure, Ferdinand , Charles Bally, and Albert Sechehaye. Course in General Linguistics. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966. Print.