[-empyre-] Reflections

Michael Weiss michl.weiss at utanet.at
Sun Oct 9 15:56:34 EST 2011

Dear all,

having just returned from an 'off-line territory' - as Johannes put it appropriately (without knowing it to be a monastery in countryside with its atmospheres of stillness and deceleration) - I am glad to now join the ongoing forum and would like to say 'hello' to all of you. 

As I just red the reflections from you - Amos, Elisita, Fabrizio, Johannes, and Sebastian (so far, as new ones come in) -, I am moved by the profound, engaged, critical, poetic, and contemplative qualities you unfold therein. I therefore attempt to walk along some of the pathways you already laid out, weaving them together with considerations in a setting of interchange and dialogue; furthermore, pointing towards a few possible connections between dance - deceleration - society (of which Johannes spoke initially), and some issues (as Elisita said in one of her postings) towards transformative processes of "who am I as a person" involved therein. - All of them being little kites - to take up Fabrizio's analogy - to be loosely flown in our forum's virtual sky...

Let me please start with two remarks. Firstly, with a short comment on the essay Johannes kindly sent out in several parts according to his and Sebastian’s idea. Although it - in coordination with Sebastian from 'Dance Atelier Vienna' - is written as a rather personal text about experiencing this summer's ChoreoLab along with specific considerations as to how it further could develop into the academic field, I hope some passages of it might be/have been of interest for such a large group as we are in this forum. Secondly, please accept my apologies in regard to the extra length of this current reflection; maybe it finds some of you in rather decelerated time-spaces as to allow looking into it at all. 

In asking myself how to join our ongoing dialogue at this moment, I would like to invite you to move - feel - think - breath through the following four quotations, at first glance possibly appearing to be rather incoherent. They span a transcultural bridge of space and time from 1854 to 1999/2004, from words of a master in social reform to words from a master in dance, pointing towards our core theme of deceleration:

"Actually, the laboring person nowadays has no leisure to realize life in a meaningful integrity day by day. Such a person cannot afford to sustain truly human relations to his fellow human beings; it would depreciate one's market value." (Henry D. Thoreau, 1854, [1])

"Some people said, finally in butô appears a dimension of looking at life from death. But in Japan, maybe in Europe too, some people appreciate very old dirty pottery, cups for instance, for thirty minutes, one hour, two hours - just looking. But it’s not just looking. Maybe that person is appreciating the moment right now, the present moment." (Ohno Yoshito, 2004, [2])

"Not till we lost the way, or, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize who we are and how infinite is the extent of our relations." (Henry D. Thoreau, 1854, [3])

"So you go down and become very small - like a flower going to its root. [Ohno Yoshito has a flower in one hand, holding it with a white paper towel; sinking down to the floor very slowly, he keeps his spine upright.] A flower is going to its root and later it goes up, and blooms again. The point is to be small. [He goes up very slowly.] This is the start [Ohno Yoshito stands again], and then become small [he points towards the movement further down]. It is not just going down." (Ohno Yoshito, 1999, [4])

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) wrote these words with regard to a period in which he embarked on a two-year experiment in simple living in a self-built log cabin at Walden Pond (Massachusetts); Ohno Yoshito (1938) spoke his words during a dialogue and one of the regular butô workshops given in his studio in Kamihoshikawa (part of Yokohama). The reflections of Henry David Thoreau (motivated by his criticism of capitalist materialism and various social institutions) and Ohno Yoshito (speaking elsewhere of "separat[ing oneself] from the ordinary life of society" as a point "that one can begin creating" [5]) open up a wide array of questions and relations, moreover pointing towards the long history of our metatheme. To name but a few of these aspects involved, there are connections between dance and society as well as deceleration versus acceleration in its multiple layers of personal and collective influences on how to live one's life in the present; connections which touch upon the most subjective fields of questioning who am I as the person I believe to be in/as inter-relation; connections between my birth and death and the very (un)conscious body-mind-awareness deriving from one's individual journey through life thereby. 

Or, to put it differently: How does slowing down lead one away from doctrines of hierarchically controlled rhythms of time (e.g. through certain economic systems) by realizing a life-experiment or living a dance-experiment? Which spaces of body-mind-time (or, as Fabrizio put it so coherently, "being-time") would open up if one were to dance consciously within the relation of life-and-death while dwelling in the present moment? Going down like a flower to its root then would not be simply be going down, indeed. It would be - if I may paraphrase two thoughts by Amos here - a most transformative act of consciously ending an omnipresent and, to a great extent, unconsciously occurring process: that is, freeing oneself from being conditioned by hierarchically controlled rhythms of time with its far-reaching consequences in terms of dissociations. Referring to early considerations in modern Western movement culture, Amos pointed to its (re)discovery that "the smaller the stimulation the bigger is the sensation". If I was to weave this very idea together with the mentioned metaphor of looking at old dirty pottery for hours, a practice of slowly going down like a flower to its root, or an experiment of questioning materialistic living standards, I suppose, amongst other processes, a specific dynamic might unfold more and more. Again speaking with Amos, it might reach out to "respect [a] human being as a unique individual" - pointing towards oneself and others. Deceleration, viewed in this context, reminds me of Elisita's wording "bridging from me to you, from here to there" as I believe this to be an inherent potential of deceleration: realizing  life-and-dance from within a state of body-mind to understand the own unique person(ality) as inter-relation with all phenomena - may they be, viewed from anthropocentric angles, named 'human' or 'non-human'. 

Yet: Acceleration, as it (still) unfolds as a most powerful instrument of social and economic control (as well as allowing to be controlled, as hidden it might be), quite often suppresses - to say the least - such senses of being-(in)-inter-relation which, as I would argue, are in need for open spaces of time. "Participating is listening", Johannes wrote, and I fully agree, believing thereby that the unique qualities of dance can facilitate such a process of becoming ever more aware of listening to the finely tuned nuances of being a participant amongst participants on this planet. The film Johannes mentioned - "Just Visiting this Planet" by Peter Sempel - might lead us to contemplate on a root cause (as I believe it to be) for ongoing accelerations, or, in case of their impossibility to be increased any further, the necessity of simultaneous production. Due to its kinaesthetic quality, dance is in a very existential position to touch this very root cause, namely the very fact of our finite lives, our mortality, and the ever present dynamic of impermanence. Ohno Yoshito warns: "If you are dancing free all the time, it makes you unfree." [6] Regarded in light of this reflection, mechanistic convictions of boundless growth and acceleration maintained as illusions of permanence ('dancing free all the time') long since turned out to be a boundary, to be accompanied by possibly becoming unfree, uncreative, and unconnected. Transience and impermanence cannot be controlled; it therefore might well be possible to assume that such attitudes create states of dissociative misunderstandings, and, not too seldom, political and economic ideas of (effective) illusions. Yet, exploring this any further, would go far beyond the scope of this already long posting.

Let me therefore summarize in conclusion my belief that decelerated movements/moving - when practiced as congruent ways of insight - powerfully support to enter one's genuine body-mind-rhythms of being present here and now - remote from socially conditioned masks and bodies. It then doesn't matter, as I think, whether movements of life-and-dance are performed/perceived as slow or fast, if such tranquility forms their base. Such deceleration, according to my understanding, can lead into a healing awareness of life's fragility and vulnerability. Accordingly, lived-danced relations and insight(s) might become ever so more meaningful and precious as to enter those states of awareness Elisita and Fabrizo wrote about: may they be called "trance-like states", "awareness on a metaphysical level", "transcending imagination of who I am" (Elisita), 'samadhi' or "being not-self-conscious" (Fabrizio) - an existential experience is realized therein. Again referring to Henry David Thoreau, "not till we lost the way, or, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize who we are and how infinite is the extent of our relations." I strongly believe that modes of deceleration, particularly in dance practiced as a way of insight into the dynamics of body-mind, prepare this very ground of transcending one's identity into an ever widening process of not localizing/searching for/finding an absolute 'me' in one's personality anymore.

It is maybe then one fully enters the experience Amos talked about: Active performing and watching actively. The freedom found therein possibly points towards looking at any-body in a manner described by Henry David Thoreau, and, as mentioned by Elisita, not looking anymore at any-thing ("cells own consciousness") by transcending dualisms. Such openness might be a most fulfilling and sensitive way of living-dancing along and through the seasons of existence as they unfold in cycles of birth, growth, blooming, decaying, and dying. - Paraphrasing Sebastian, this might be a coherent process to let all e=motional life enter subjective-and-collective journey(s) in vivid creativity.

Thank you very much indeed for your patience with regard to this all too long posting... Being off-line for another period during this month, I look forward to (y)our further dialogue. For now, with warm regards and wishes, Michl



Thoreau, Henry David. 2000 [1854]. Walden: Ein Leben mit der Natur. [Walden: Or, Life in the Woods]. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Vlg.; p. 10 [Chapter I]. Transl. into Engl.: M.W.


Dialogue between Ohno Yoshito and M.W. July 21, 2004. Kamihoshikawa. Interpreter: Hashimoto Keiko.


Op. cit., p. 187 [Chapter VIII].  Transl. into Engl.: M.W.


Workshop  by Ohno Yoshito. August 25, 1999. Kamihoshikawa. Interpreter: Okamoto Emi.


Ohno, Yoshito 1992:83. Interview by Lynne Bradley, December 9, 1991. In: Bradley, Lynne. 1992. Shades of Darkness: Gins and Development of the Butoh Movement. Univ. of Queensland (Brisbane). Bachelor Thesis, unpublished. 


Workshop by Ohno Yoshito. July 21, 1999. Kamihoshikawa. Interpreter: Okamoto Emi.

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