Presence (Updated: 06/09/19)

“One must give oneself totally, in one’s deepest intimacy, with confidence, as when one gives oneself in love. Here lies the key. Self-penetration, trance, excess, the formal discipline itself – all this can be realized, provided one has given oneself fully, humbly and without defense.” – Jerzi Grotowski¹

Presence presents presents.  Presence is often associated with grace or flow.12 It may also be synonymous with intensity (which is not necessarily about physical strength and/or speed). It is the life blood of performance.

According to Peggy Phelan, it entails a “convincing,” “commanding,” and “captivating” nature from the performer.14

If there is no presence, there is no show. When you appear in the performance space, you are to hijack the audience. Nobody can look away. As Artaud says, “the theater, like the plague, is a crisis which is resolved by death or cure.”² Give all (sustainability granted), or don’t give anything.

But how do we get to this intensity? Through focus. Focus might be the root of presence. When our attention or energy is dispersed in many directions, we lose presence. Presence is sharp and goes in one direction. If we feel a subtle tendency or qualia, for instance, we enter into it with our entire being. Anything less is not a show. For instance, even when we feel there is nothing more to give due to a sick or dying body, a massive presence can be generated by the awareness of the last piece of string keeping us alive.

Note: Visually, if we want to focus, we do not necessarily need to engage any particular point in the room, but it is highly recommended to utilize glass ball eye. That way, the focus is vague vision upon the entire viewing field or horizon. This may instigate great subbody resonance.

100% focus can paradoxically make it so that one is being moved instead of one being the mover. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says of this 100% focus, “If you are 100% in an activity, then you become free from the activity. . . . Desire is not being involved in 100% action.”6 In 100% activity, the ego (hence desire) is quieted. Something else happens altogether. We surrender. We enter into a becoming. To Ravi Shankar, desire is “not now, not thisthat and then.” So presence ≈ now. Be engaged in hereing (hearing the moment). Some may even call this a form of prayer.

According to Suzanne M. Jaeger, the individual who achieves presence has a special capacity for spontaneity.13 We may then see that we not only need focus, but also spontaneity, which seems paradoxical. I call these two forces combined the definigmatic.

Exercise 1: Coning

Visualize a cone with a tiny hole the size of a needle at the very end. Take this cone and put it on whatever qualia one is embodying and gradually send the qualia down the cone toward the point/vertex. The closer it gets to the point, the more intense and concentrated it gets. Eventually, it will get to the little hole in which case it will be as a laser.

Exercise 2: Intensity Switch

Have the participant engage in a familiar strenuous or passionate activity whether physical, emotional, and/or psychological. At your signal, the participant suddenly stops and shifts to a qualia which has already been established either by you or them. It is very important that the shift is immediate and there is no lag or thought in-between, else there will be a leak of intensity.

Peter Brook once said, “Imagine one hundred blind people listening to you. The fact that you swing on trapeze, is irrelevant. But the impulse which takes you to the trapeze should be in what you say.”³ In other words, it’s granted that we are intense or real about something in our lives. We can take that underlying intensity and transpose it onto something else.

Exercise 3: Bleak Vapor

This is a vaporizing exercise where the participant is either in stillness or movement. The participant will be given a series of qualias to experience within the vapor, but they will all be harsh environments. In each circumstance, the stillness or movements of the 3d body will not be affected outside of a subtle but powerful shift in presence due to continuing the identical movements despite the circumstances. Here are example vaporized worlds that increase in intensity: (1) There is a terrible hurricane; (2) The world is made of only lead; (3) The abyss or void opens which nothing escapes.

Exercise 4: 10,000 Copycats

This is another vaporizing exercise, but now involves 10,000 duplicates or 10,000 parallel worlds of yourself. In each world, each of you follow the exact stillness or movement you are currently engaged in. Essentially, you have an army of 10,000 reinforcing your every movement.

That is the first part of the exercise. The second part of the exercise calls for a signal so that the 10,000 of you instantaneously absorb themselves into your 3d body.

Love & Bhakti as 100% Presence

“Butoh is just a word for dancing from the heart.” – Yoshito Ohno9

To Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, love is 100% presence in something (and a retiring back to Self)or as Rhizome Lee may see it, 100% resonance. This is the same as a complete becoming. When one truly resonates with a mountain, for instance, one may forget about one’s own self that is observing. One is lost in the mountain. One is not that actual mountain, but one can say one is becoming the spirit. Then one can be said to be in love at that moment.

Pooja is a ritual offering of one’s self. When we are engaged in something 100% it is as if it is an offering of one’s entirety. It is a surrender/sacrifice and where being moved comes into place. This is sacred performance. When this is especially directed at one’s entire world (e.g. Life itself, God/Source it/her/himself), it is called bhakti. Sacred performance is bhakti. Bhakti is divine love.

Pooja in this sense is as Rhizome Lee’s 100% life resonance. Shankar notes further:

‘I have been given this universe. [N]ow I offer the universe back. I have been given this body and every particle of this body[.] I am offering back to you. You gave me this world and I offer this back to you. And I am yours.’ This intense feeling of offering, merging, giving everything to the Divine – every bit of it is called Pooja.8

The you mentioned in the quote can be God, Source, Infinite Space, Ever-existing Uncreate, Subbody, Atman, Brahman, Buddha, Universe, The Great Mystery, etc.

Performing/Not-Performing

When do we know a performance is a performance? Outside of having at least one audience member, which we can also view as one or more persons simply being communicated to, we can broaden the concept of performing itself.

To Richard Schechner’s concept of Restored Behavior, performance entails any “organized sequences of events, scripted actions, known texts, scored movements [that] exist separate from the performers who ‘do’ these behaviors, … [so] the behavior can be stored, transmitted, manipulated, transformed.” In other words, the communication or action is repeatable or has the ability or intention to be performed again.4 Restored behavior is also known as twice-behaved, coded, or transmittable behavior.10 Restored behavior also include habits, rituals, and life routines.11

Though we may think of some performances as not repeatable such as dance improvisation, improvisation still relies on retrieving and organizing known material.

In Eelka Lampe’s Performing/Not Performing model, there are different modes of performance separated into two classes, social and aesthetic, which also have the ability to feed off each other or merge.5

Social

Self Not Performing – Little awareness/nonconscious, feeling unobserved, and not meant to be precisely repeatable such as being seen going out for a walk or smoking a cigarette. (Shadowbody Note: When we have expanded the concept of not performing to that of performing, we have entered into the territory of Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Here, we can risk developing something drab or non-stimulating to the audience.)

Personality Creating a Self  Aware/conscious, communicative, feeling observed, and not meant to be precisely repeatable such as having a conversation or telling a joke.

Social Persona Performing a Part of Oneself – Consciously trained, communicative, feeling observed, and precisely repeatable such as working as an airline host/hostess (Shadowbody Note: When the airline host/hostess goes over the safety regulations, they even engage in mime.)

Self in Ritual  Either aware or not aware, either consciously or nonconsciously trained, either unobserved or observed, and also repeatable. This is as trance dancing. (Shadowbody Note: This is a common goal in butoh. As one can see, it has the potential to blur the line between performing and/or not because there may come a point where the qualities of Self Not Performing are mirrored–that of little awareness/nonconscious.)

Aesthetic

Self in Play – Non-conscious/little awareness, feeling unobserved, and not meant to be precisely repeatable such as playing a video game with somebody or movement improvisation in a workshop.

Character Acting/Creating an Other Self  Conscious/more aware and meant to be repeatable, communicative, and feeling observed such as playing Hamlet in a theater production.

Aesthetic Persona Performing a Part of Oneself – Conscious/aware, communicative, feeling observed such as Kabuki stage attendants.

Techniques of Virtuosity Transforming the Self – Conscious/aware such as acrobats.

Eelka Lampe further notes:

A performer constructing a character might draw on aspects of her/his own self, personality, or various social personae. The reverse can also be true: a personality can be a fictional character of one’s own construction. The same holds for the fabrication of a person’s social personae. Both the social and the aesthetic personae can be built from very private aspects of the self. And, conversely, a person’s social persona might be displayed while s/he is playing a self-absorbed game. Performing is a mixture and/or a layering of several of the model’s “pure” stages.5

As one can see, the question of what makes a performance is a complex one and is best pondered on one’s own.

Focus Cultivation (Symbol Method)

Everything we do must start from somewhere and what better place is there to start than a neutral place of readiness as explained in detail in filler, idle & scribble and heavily encouraged by artists such as Jerzy Grotowski (the neutral mask). But because the potential field may be difficult to focus on at all times, we can utilize the symbol method as a placeholder or starting ground to compensate for monkey mind or lack of concentration.

If we are not utilizing the cultivation of chaos/potential/filler/scribble, then this practice is to be taken up indefinitely throughout the day. This practice works with (instead of against) our possible “ADD” or monkey mind. We can think of it as a palate cleanser such as coffee beans may be for smelling different fragrances. This method is a personalized version of everyday focusing methods utilized by many cultures such as prayer bead work, god or guru images, or mantra repetition.

1. Pick one symbol familiar to you. The simpler the better, but you must highly enjoy or resonate very heavily with it. For instance, one can resonate very heavily with the symbol of two spheres together. Once the symbol is chosen, do not switch to another. This is the symbol you always return to.

2. Feel all the varying aspects of the symbol (refer to vision & perception). Especially feel how it looks, tastes, smells, and sounds. For instance, my two spheres take the form of Chinese iron balls, so I can hear the chime, feel the weight and roundness, smell the metallic smell, and see its luster, along with many other aspects. One is to get to the point where the symbol is effortless to focus on because it resonates so much with our core being or subbody.

 


¹ Grotowski, Jerzy. Towards a Poor Theatre, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2012.
² Artaud, Antonin. The Theater and Its Double. New York: Grove Press, 1958. Print. Page 40.
3 Selbourne, David. Quoted in The Making of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. 2011. Page 101.
4 Schechner, Richard. Between Theater and Anthropology, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 35-37. 1985.
5 Lampe, Eelka, “Rachel Rosenthal Creating Her Selves.” Acting (Re) Considered. Routledge. p. 300, 301. 2005.
6 Shankar, Sri Sri Ravi, “Narada Bhakti Sutra: The Aphorisms of Love.” 2008. Bangalore. Page 7.
7 Ibid. Page 6.
8 Ibid. Page 26.
9 Fraleigh, Sondra. Butoh: Metamorphic Dance and Global Alchemy, Illinois, University of Illinois. 2010. Page 32.
10 Schechner, Richard. Performance Studies: An Introduction. 3rd Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print. Page 52.
11 Ibid. 34.
12 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (New York: Harper, 1990), and Finding the Flow: The Psychological Engagement with Every- day Life (New York: Basic Books, 1997).
13 Jaeger, Suzanne. Embodiment and presence: The ontology of presence reconsidered. In David Krasner & David Z. Saltz (eds.), Staging Philosophy: Intersections of Theater, Performance, and Philosophy. University of Michigan Press. Page 123.
14 Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London: Routledge, 1993), 115–17.
Sidebar