Mundanity & Gesture (Updated: 11/17/18)

“I am chewing on cries and the profundity of esoteric gestures by gazing closely and unceasingly at the mundane.” – Tatsumi Hijikata¹

Mundanity can be an excellent starting place. 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).

Mundanity is also the starting place for Akaji Maro’s (founder of Dairakudakan) creation process known as Maro’s Method, which is the “Teburi” portion of the first pillar, which is one pillar amongst three: (1) Teburi/Miburi (Purposeless Movement); (2) Igata (Mould); (3) Chūtai (Space-Body).²

To Maru, Teburi is the everyday gesture whether conscious of unconscious. Miburi, on the other hand, is a crack in Teburi exposing the unconscious realm (same as Rhizome Lee’s Subbody). One can think of sudden shocks or accidents in the everyday life. Time might stand still or become dreamy or nightmarish.²

Essentially, Akaji Maro starts with mundane movement in order to travel into their crevices after they crack. In Maru’s own words, “[After the accident] we become blank like “!!” …. Usually nobody is going to pay attention to that trivial thing and everybody lets that go past soon. But in Butoh, the small blank moment or crack in daily life is the door for the “Miburi” which is latent in another parallel line. In our [training], we open the door, enter a pitch‑black and pure‑white place, and collect the gesture, and receive them into our body.²

Similarly, Ko Murobushi encourages a disruption of the mundane with a forgetfulness in the moment. Tanya Calamoneri describes such an exercise in class:

Murobushi asked the students to begin with a daily action such as brushing our teeth or getting dressed and then, as if we were suddenly struck with Alzheimer’s disease, to forget what we had started doing. In the pause that ensued, we were to wonder at the form our body was in ‒ in my case, right arm up a right angle, bent at the elbow, hand in front of mouth and mouth agape ‒ and get curious about this.6

What Maro and Murobushi are interested in is essentially the defamiliarization of the mundane. This is at the very basis of Viktor Shkovsky’s view of art. Shkovsky notes, “The technique of art is to make objects “unfamiliar,” to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.”7

When the unfamiliar plays inside the familiar, it can also lead into the uncanny, which to Proul, Heine, and Vohs, is an unexpected unexpectedAn expected unexpected is not surprising.9

Exercise 1: Maro’s Teburi/Miburi

Have the participants engaged in something mundane such as drinking tea, exercising, or playing rock-paper-scissors (Teburi). Then on a cue, the participants are to be shocked in some way, whether it’s a sudden blare of sound or a cause for concern. The participants are to then immediately resonate with the physical and psychological reaction (Miburi), to extend it in space-time.

Exercise 2: 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 3: 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 4: Gesture Shift/Deterritorialization

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.

Exercise 5: 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 6: 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.

Gesture

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 important to practice gestures with reduction & regeneration. If not, our movements will fall into cliché, or as Stanislavski would say, “rubber stamps.”³

If the gesture does not provide a change in mental state, then the gesture is not deep enough. This is the basis of Michael Chekhov’s psychological gesture (PG). Lisa Dalten says of the PG: “[I]n one movement, the PG awakens the essence of the character in you thus aligning your thoughts, feelings and will (objective) with that of the character.”8

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 aka Ingesturation

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. These three states will denote forms/levels of transformation and/or depth that we can enact upon a qualia.

Fermentation is cultivating ma or opening up a portal to the subbody. Christine Bellerose states, “When a choreographer asks a dancer for “more ma,” the dancer is asked to perform alchemy. A dancer who yields ma brings to movement the quality of aliveness to an otherwise neutral, or unborn space-time.”4 Neutral or unborn space-time here can mean the everyday world. Alchemy is fermentation. We want more magic.

Let juice be the ordinary gesture (or Maro’s teburi), e.g. an eye rub for disbelief. We then take this gesture and swallow it so that it can ferment (become more miburi). Ingesture. 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 eye rub? 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).5 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 Tatsumi, Hijikata. Wild Daruma. Hijikata Tatsumi: The Words of Butoh, translated by Jacqueline S. Ruyak and Kurihara Nanako, The Drama Review, (Spring) 44, 1:43 – 8.
² Bradley, Lynne M. Found in translation: Transcultural performance practice in the 21st century. PhD by Creative Works, Queensland University of Technology. 2017. Page 88.
³ Stanislavski, Constantin.  An Actor Prepares. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2012. Page 27.
4 Bellerose, Christine. Being Ma in Movement: Space-Time in Butoh, Somatic Practice, and Durational Performance Art. York University. Toronto. 2015. Page 19.
Saussure, Ferdinand , Charles Bally, and Albert Sechehaye. Course in General Linguistics. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966. Print.
6 Calamoneri, Tonya. Dancing Hamlet in a World of Frogs: butoh and the actor’s inner landscape. Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 7:3, Page 383. 2016.
Shkovsky, Victor. Art as Technique. Essay. 1917. Page 2.
8 Dalton, Lisa. The Psychological Gesture. Hollywood’s Best Kept Secret. Actors Inc. Issue 35 & 36. http://www.michaelchekhov.net/gesture.html
9 Proulx T1, Heine SJ, Vohs KD. When is the unfamiliar the uncanny? Meaning affirmation after exposure to absurdist literature, humor, and art. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2010 Jun;36(6):817-29. Epub 2010 May 5.
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