Workshops with Masaki Iwana

The first series of workshops 3.07-06.07, led by Butoh teacher and artist Masaki Iwana.


Masaki’s teaching method and approach is coming from Hijikata Tatsumi and his ankoku butoh which is concentrated on the dark aspects, the flesh and loss. It states a more minimalistic approach, where movement is reduced but through that reduction also more intense. He has performed since 60s and has learned directly from the leaders and creators of butoh,making him as one of the most well-known and experienced teachers and practitioners today.

The warming up and streching was a bit similar to hatha yoga pratice. Masaki’s remarque on flexibility and strength was interesting: he told that flexibility is the basis for strength, so the more flexible dancer, the more strong is his centre, therefore the dancer has more strength in general. He demonstrated how to use only flexibility instead of strength to execute certain movements. From my own yoga pratice I ensure that this is the case: eith flexibility I have also gained strength, especially within the inner muscles that are connected to overall balance, which makes it easier to execute movments with inner tension. Masaki turned our attention to the energy that is awakened with movement and should therefore be released. He described how chakras are also on the fingers and toes, which is the reason why we had to direct the energy towards our fingers and toes and to release it with shaking.

In butoh, the movement starts from the bottom, gravitation holds a great role. This is a bit different from my own practice so far. As I started with ballet, I tend to hold the habit of verticality in body – the hands and torso movement, also the centre, but I am not used to start the movement from the bottom, feet or the ground. So the different basis of creating movement makes it challenging but also very interesting for me.

While modern dance is dealing with light, more joyful themes, butoh is interested in the darker side. According to Masaki, one of the qualities of a great dancer is, that he/she can depict both lighter and darker and negative emotions, states and sensations.

During the workshop, Masaki gave us three concrete tasks. To dance:


Receit with obligation – wanting to stay,yet knowing you have to leave

Rottening (not a plant, but more like fish or meat) – decomposition of the body, melting, while keeping in mind that rottening is an erotic process, it is opening up, coming from the idea of becoming one with something

Masaki explained, how the creators of butoh (Hijikata Tatsumi, later on Kazuo Ohno) used the notion „to become“ for depicting certain qualities: for example when conveying fragrance, you do not express it, but rather become fragrance.

Masaki told us, how beginners are used to express, to show emotions while dancing, yet a professional should be very stable and calm. The dancer should be fully aware and present: real presence means, in his words, that dancer’s memories, background and experience can be seen in an instance, just by looking at the dancer standing and being on stage. Emotions are not important in dance, he said. The presence is essential, but if dancer fills all the dance with emotions, then there is no roomleft for presence. Therefore any  dance and performance has to begin from the strong presence.

One of the most important things is the connection with the audience. The dancer has to open up fully, to create a real interaction with the audience. Therefore the physical work should also include opening your body (joints, your lines, angles etc). That is also the reason why performer should not close his/her eyes – you are addressing the audience all the time. The directions used in dance should also be directed towards the audience.

The first workshop ended with 15 minute solos which have to be polished and developed in four days. In the feedback, Masaki stressed the importance of space: he asked us to use the linesthat are already inthe performing space, to use the different directions and the whole space.

It seems that in butoh, the aim is to „pull in“, i.e all the work takes place on the inner level through concentration. In contrast to western dance (but it is a bit different in contemporary dance), the essence of butoh is presence and living through. Instead of expressing a notion, sensation or quality you really have to embody it – you have to become it. That includes the aspect of transformation – instead of using your body, training and dance technique to convey certain sensation, quality or meaning, you use your mental and somatic experience and inner reflection to fully dive into this sensation and quality – so you transform yourself in this process.

This is the moment where, in my opinion, we can see  how the persona is somewhat decomposed and rebuilt in performing the dance. The aspect of not portraying, but becoming states that the dancer is actually dealing with severe metamorphosisand transforms his/her body and mental state.


In second workshop, we had a similar warm up and streching. Again, Masaki leaned on hatha yoga, when describing how mudras are very important, because when our body parts lean on other parts or on the floor, we gain more strength. It is important to connect different points on your body, and it is the main principle of hatha yoga, together with breathing. We repeated the impulse-reaction exercise, where we walked in a row,changing directions immediately when Masaki clapped. He told that impulse-reaction are always tightly connected and that a dancer should turn off his thinking, just reacting to the impulse, being like an insect, without a brain. I find it interesting and logical, as while moving or dancing we switch to other kinds of intelligence: not the rationality, but bodily and somatic intelligence,and also on instincts.

Masaki stressedthat performing arts is not a ritual:we need an exchange. Therefore, communicating with the audience is important and one should direct one’s eyes and glance. He continued with the comparison of expression and presence, telling that expression needs skill, it has to be polished, otherwise it is not enough.

We repeated the exercises. After dancing Fragrance he advised us how to depict lightness: coming down has to be slower than going up (on toes for example). He also recommended to use a stance which allows to move freely. He continued, descrbing that body has 2 kinds of speed: intentional and natural. The latter is made up of internal movement and breathing. Dance is a collaboration between these two, he said.

Referring to Kazuo Ohno, Masaki described the role of timing and spatiality in dance:no time means no space. Dancer should have and fill space. „Space doesn’t like to walk with you“. Physical distance in dance, indicates the spiritual distance, Masaki pointed out after the second exercise Receit with obligation. He also said that doing nothing is often the best solution, because when dancer has something (inside) and he(she) does not do anything, it provokes many images. „In dance, body is also space.“ When expressing,body becomes smaller, he told.

Referring to Hijikata Tatsumi, he described the key aspects of butoh. To dance rich one should:

forget – forget the subjet, the emotion

give up



stand at the edge of risk.

In addition to 3 exercises from yesterday,we also had to dance Blooming in 3 stages: ground level, sitting and standing up, standing. After the exercise he turned our attention to the fact that as body is composed spirally, standing up should also follow spiral line.

One of the key point in butoh is maximum aesthetic with less effort.

It is interesting how butoh is interested in distortion, dissolving, decomposing, but it still lies on grace and delicacy. The visual images should always have a certain aesthetic, just like Masaki pointed out. there is an interesting conflict while portraying something that is negative dark in a poetic way, using your body to convey grace and beauty simulatanously with rottening, dead flesh, sadness etc.

Masaki again stressed the role on inner landscape, which is related to body memory, and both physical and mental experience.


Strength means:intensity+power+flexibility+balance. Training bottom helps to free the upper body. „Torso is just air,“ as Masaki described. For dancer, the intuitive distance and intuition in general is important, as one must develop a certain intimacy with space. Interacting with space and the audience is as important as using all the parts of space. Space has 6 dimensions, Masaki described: left, right, centre and back, front, middle. We should always keep al these dimensions in mind while creating a piece.

„Fragrance is nothingness. Next moment it is gone.“

„Blooming is growing eternally. So dance infinitely.“

„Audience is usually interested in risky situations – take yourself to the edge.“

All the movements have to come from the inner landscape.

Key words from today (in my opinion):




We did the same exercises and added Drunkenness – which we had to perform inside a circle of rope – „balancing the off-balance“, as Masaki said. For dancer, it is important to know how to installate body parts in space.

Seems like butoh’s nature are subtle yet intense movements – do not use energy, just try to Be. No modem way, as he said. Modem meaning brain before body movements.

Masaki also told about the energy:how it should be spread out, which means, a dancer should not be enclosed in his/her movements. He also warned about using objects and the direct contact with the audience: both should be calculated and done skillfully and with awareness. For example, is using an object ons tage, the relationship that is created should include you on an edge, it should settle you in a risky situation.

Solo task:

I developed my solo around the concept of estrangement – the feel or sensation that I am not comfortable in my own body, but also the feeling that I sense my body, my breathing, my limbs, lines and angles for the first time. Like a stranger to my own body. Firstly, I use intense moving, gorund level, a certain dislocation within my body, or disconcertion and inner tension. I am trying to leave my limbs, to escape them and my body in general. Pushing inwards, my chest and torso, distorting my limbs, moving restlessly, using uncomfortable body angles.

In second part I am feeling the acceptance, I acknowledge that I am constantly tranforming, evolving. I might feel estrangement as I am constantly renewing in my body. My body is renewing, although it has its own memory. My body holds all my experiences, memories, sensations and emotions and at the same time is new at every moment. I free my hair. Breath in my own scent. I am present. I give up the restlessness and tension. I accept my bodily existence. I lay down on my knees. My hair all falling freely. I release my hands. I feel a certain grace and gentleness in my body. Relaxation. Tranquility. Acceptance. Returning to my centre. Letting go. Release. Breathing in. Breathing out. Purification.


We continued with similar warm up, and some new exercises to practice the change of speed and direction. Later on we had to perform the same tasks: Fragrance, Receit with an obligation, Rottening, Blooming and Drunkenness.

Masaki touched the question of slowness: slow movement does not mean that a picture is cut in frames like in slow motion – more important is to keep you inner time and rhythm. Music is of anyimportance, as long you are directed by your inner tempo.

Establishing a performance: less gestures,more imagination – audience sees everything through their individual and cultural backgroundand memory, he stressed. That is also why expression and emotion should be minimalized – to provoke more imagination andpersonal images in the audience.

„It is important is to take things like time and space from you own body,“ said Masaki. HE described, how time-space has two levels or aspects: real,the actual outer time and space is the second level meaning. the first level of time and space  is the personal body.Wehave our own time which starts with birthand has moved on until today. The space is also our body, from the tip of our toe to the top of our head. HE told how in butoh,the notion of „entire body“ is of great importance: not only our physical body is included in the dance, but also time, body habits, education,culture, knowledge and desires.

He turned our attention to the editing or montage, i.e how to share time in performance, to divide the piece in time. HE advised to always leave room for the imagination: to create images that in turn activate the personal images of the audience. In butoh, it is also important to fabricate another sensation or appearance than your own, including to produce and portray dark intentions, things that we can’t demonstrate in everyday life.

He also stressed how we should deal with unexpected situations on stage . to use these kind of situations to create new interesting images and situations.

masaki iwana(c) Masaki Iwana


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