12 Hour Multi-guide Improvisational Butoh Ritual Marathon

February 20, 2022

Because this concept is so new to us, as of yet, there is no specific label to call what we engaged in on February 17th 2022 other than this long title.We four butoh guides—Coco Villarreal (Mexico), Alessia Mallardo (Italy), Santeri Vikström (Finland), Adam Koan (USA)—took part in a long durational experimental class/ritual at Tiyatro Medresesi in Sirince, Turkey. Already, almost 5 weeks of class (around 30 hours of class activity per week Monday thru Friday) had gone by.

The class began at 10 AM and ended at 10 PM, making this a 12 hour class. There were only two official breaks of 30 minutes for lunch and dinner, but even then, they were still performative with no daily world chit-chat unless the chit-chat was part of performance dialogue/monologue. Some of the very precious moments were during these breaks.

The spaces involved the studio, the courtyard, the dining room, and the top of a rocky hill a kilometer away.

The experiment required the guides to enter the space with no preconceived guiding plans. We were to begin the class in a completely clean slate. Our guiding would come out spontaneously by listening to the space, the participants, and each other.

The experiment placed the guides in a position of needing to be very present. Yet it also allowed the guides to take a double role of non-guiding participant.There was no doubt in my mind that there would be any lack of structure with such an improvisational day because the four of us combined already had a tremendous amount of guiding material from our past.


I am still processing the events of that day. I observed an abundance of novel phenomena that was much different than what I had experienced in other butoh classes before. Even though there have been others who have held very long classes, such as Diego Piñón’s 12-hour ritual-based classes, he only did so as the primary guide, and the improvisational element was much less pronounced.

The entire day kept a steady stream of spontaneity and improvisation as a sort of rhizomic, ma-space, or even chaotic base where moments of tree, actualities, order, or code emerged spontaneously. There were moments of silence, speaker music, voice and instruments. Though everybody had their part in influencing the space, the four of us guides in particular were the main influencers or forces which opened up worlds, especially pedagogical ones of body conditioning, across-the-floor, visualization, and much more.

Because the underlying energy of the entire day was improvisational, when moments of codified direction/instruction/suggestion were implemented, the exercises took on more of a performative or alive nature. Some exercises I witnessed could be viewed as unusual or harder to pull off were they to be executed in a more standard class setting such as when instructions are executed in a bare bones, too-serious, or a precise type of way that leaves little room for improvisation within a codified structure.

I found the side effects or complementary worlds that opened up alongside proposed exercises to be very rich. The improvisational and performative attitude toward codified exercises felt like a gateway to pedagogical novelty.

One particular exercise, for instance, blossomed very richly. From out of the sea of open improvisation, Coco, through both gesture and very few words, set up the start of an across-the-floor exercise by first demonstrating it himself. The exercise was typical of his classes before as is part of his body conditioning via different forms of locomotion.What was immediately different, however, about his exercise this time was that by the time it began, it was already a hybridization of a devotional ritual that was already occurring in the space spontaneously. Through listening, Coco discovered a homospatial relation between his across-the-floor exercise and the act of walking up to an altar.

Before the across-the-floor exercise, an altar with a picture of Tatsumi Hijikita was spontaneously put together with materials that were on hand. The floor mats were even made to conform to the new Hijikata altar world as a pathway.

Coco’s across-the-floor exercise was simultaneously a devotional gesture/pilgrimage where the final gesture of devotion occurred when one actually finished the locomotion exercise at the altar. Yet this was only the beginning of the magic.

During the across-the-floor exercise, the world around the exercise bred new side-world creations. For instance, at one instance, one of the participants came into the space where the across-the-floor occurred and was acting as a sort of waitress with a serving plate of water. In another occasion, from a solo crabwalk exercise, a duet crabwalk formed out of necessity, since a participant desired to carry a keyboard on the pelvis, and it was much easier to do so with two crab walkers. Naturally, another participant (me in this case) joined them by playing the role of the pianist, forming an across-the-floor pilgrimage trio.

Throughout the day, there were rich moments like this one. A space tainted by an improvisational virus turned everything into a magical world. For this reason, beforehand, the participants really should be very familiar with basic improvisational concepts such a “yes, and” and initiator, promoter, follower (see the Cobody page on butohmanual.com).

The Future

The experiment left a very profound impression on me. Thoughts circulated in me about how there may have been a paradigm shift in pedagogy being approached. Yet at the same time, I felt that this could also remain as a sort of special ceremonial liminal event. My curiosity continues, however, regarding what would happen if this all-day event would be extended to more than one day.

In the future, as Coco suggested, even the time limits (minus the set lunch and dinner times) could be vanquished to emphasize even more of a timeless space. Instead of a specific time frame such as 10 AM to 10 PM, it could simply begin as after breakfast and end at night with no completely solid time.

As the across-the-floor example with Coco demonstrated, if the guides could be attuned to the various phenomena or events happening in the space, they could form a smooth transition into an exercise that can directly relate with what is already happening. One pattern in all my butoh work is developing bridges from worlds to worlds in some way, and so I am always thinking in terms of transition or transformation.

In the future, guides can also try to attune themselves to be like an exquisite corpse with some of the exercises. Just because a particular exercise came from one particular guide does not mean that another guide cannot add onto it. This type of resonance can seem to get easier the more the guides get to know each other.

This experiment occurred within the butoh world though I feel it could be applied to any artistic pedagogical setting. Even more curious could be a setting that already has different genres within it such as the collective I am a part of (Nomadic Dance Collective) where in May, for instance, there is a site-specific theatre guide, a contact improvisation guide, a contemporary guide, a butoh guide, and a vocal work guide.