Savannah's Theatre Blog

Zen Zen Zo: Session 1

Posted in All About Butoh by Savannah on September 7, 2010

Zen Zen Zo Workshop

Session 1:

I absolutely loved session 1! It was incredible not only the amount of energy we could create but the amount of focus as well.

– Do it all as though the audience has paid $50 to see you.

Those four important things:

1- Energy

2 – Focus

3 – Physical awareness

4 – Group awareness

We did exercises for each of these important things and I found every one extraordinarily helpful and some, if not all, involved all 4 important things to remember.


I think creating the different levels of energy it is one of the best exercises is for determining energy levels. It made me very aware of just how much energy impacts on those surrounding you, which includes the audience. I discovered this by simply being in the space with people doing the same exercise for I could feel the difference (6th sense!).

The levels:

1 – Floppy, bent over, head down, eyes closed, almost unable to hold self up. With a slight flick, you will fall at this energy level.

2 – The zombie! Able to stand but only just. There is not enough energy to open eyes or keep the head up. It is also referred to as the sleepwalking state.

3 – Slightly more functional, able to hold self upright but not aware of surroundings at all.

4 – Slightly more energy, there is something going on behind the eyes yet not enough awareness to work well in an ensemble (or to create an interesting performance)

5 – THE CURIOUS STATE. This means you are curious about your surroundings – anything and everything!

6 – Emotional. The very best and worst day of your life (perhaps imaginary days) work well in creating the extreme emotion needed for this level of energy.

7 – Channelled energy; stillness. All the energy from level 6 is channelled into something specific, whether it be a pose or perhaps a piece of dialogue.

What I found at each level –

1 – It took me a little while to get entirely into this level and to actually let myself go there but once I got there I actually started to feel like I was physically working, as in not letting my brain getting in my way. This is something I tend to do a lot and it is something I need to work past.

2 – This was a difficult level for me as it seemed in the middle of everything; it wasn’t as distinct as each other level. None-the-less! I still think I was able to “capture” this level and it was definitely not a level I would like to go on stage with.

3 – This level was a bit easier than the last in that it was something I could focus more clearly on. Whilst obtaining focus was not the point of the exercise, it was definitely a requirement.

4 – I hate being at this level. It is trying to get somewhere but it is just not trying hard enough. This level often reminds me of how I feel after performances sometimes; it is frustrating when I know I can push myself further.

 ‘Curiosity is not a sin, but you should do well to exercise caution’ (a Harry Potter quote J). I think this quote is effective in representing the next three levels.

5 – This level was fun J We were able to bring a lot more energy and so much more energy! It is the minimum level to be at when performing. In the session I said seven and then immediately felt rather foolish because I a) realised light and shade is VITAL in a performance and b) realised that being at level 7 constantly would be impossible.

6 – This was extreme and, from what I hear from the business management class, loud. I didn’t actually enjoy this one AS MUCH as the last level. I’m not entirely sure why but I think it may have been because level 5 involved more movement which I enjoyed.

7 – The still state: This was an amazing level to experience and one I hope to get back to in stages of performing. It was so focussed! It was as though all the energy in the world was concentrated on a tiny pin point and whilst it threatened to explode, it was a great feeling to know that I could hold it for as long as I needed. This is where that quote really comes into effect because it depicts the importance of focussing your curiosity and energy.


This was one of my favourite exercises that we did. We were in groups of three and had an exercise to do:

1) Person A faces person B. Person A slowly starts to move (i.e. raising their left hand with palm down) whilst person B mimics them. They are not allowed to watch the other person’s body; they are to remain eye contact at all times.

2) As the connection between person A and B grows stronger, person A can start to challenge person B with the movements. This can be done by tempo, levels (height) and angles.

3) Now person C gets involved. When they feel that person A and B have a very strong connection and are going well, they can start to ask questions to person A to try and waver (or test) person A’s focus. They can be simple things like ‘What is your favourite colour?’ or ‘How many dogs do you have?’ but if person A is not comfortable with the question they may pass. The answers to the questions do not have to be truthful, or even believable, as long as they are sold as truths. As time goes on, person C can begin to challenge person A more by asking the questions at a faster rate or asking more difficult questions.


How I felt:

As person A: 

1) + 2) This was fairly good, I felt very focussed and I was working with Mel at this point who was focussed for the most part. The only bad points, I thought, were at the moments where focus was lost almost entirely. Mel started giggling at one point and obviously lost focus which then meant that the whole thing stopped moving simultaneously stopping the focus we held.

3) Answering the questions, or rather having questions aimed at me, of course made it more difficult. It gave me another thing to focus on so whilst I may have been able to have all my focus on the “mirror”, I had to have my focus elsewhere as well. However, the most important thing was the mirror; the answers to the questions were merely a distraction. I’m not even entirely sure what some of my answers were but at points I did feel a bit tongue-tied! I would like to do this exercise again to not only develop my ability to focus but for everyone to maintain that focus and perform the exercise with more precision.

As Person B:

1) + 2) I was working with Geoff for this one and it was fantastic. I think we worked well together and I think, also, because we are both dancers we have strong physical awareness which meant we could pick up subtleties that I noticed Mel and Geoff could not. At one point he did lose his focus but he brought it back very quickly and we were able to get right back on track. I think his focus was slightly higher than Mel’s, who was still a little giggly. I enjoyed being person B more than A because I felt more part of a team rather than the one in charge and it was a really good feeling.

3) N/a


As person C:

1) There were subtleties here that Mel did not pick up such as the direction of a palm, etc. yet they worked incredibly well together! It was really good to see that level of unity.

2) I noticed one really interesting point at this stage: person A (Mel) shifted her weight slightly and slightly concaved her stomach and person B (Geoff) imitated this subconsciously! I think it shows how strong their focus and connection was.

3) It was really hard to think of questions! I felt more tongue-tied than when I was answering them. Perhaps there is an added pressure because it is a verbal contribution. I find that with movement, it is difficult to move in the wrong way whereas with speech, it is easy to say the wrong thing. However, both can have an equally powerful impact.


Physical Awareness: Character Traits

This involved the discovery of traits in others and the imitation of them (in groups of three). The steps:

1) Person A walks around the room (the performance space) with a natural walk. They do not walk in a circle but randomly, this will make it a more natural walk.

2) Person B and C look for traits in person A, i.e. walking with chin down; leading with forehead. They then decide on one trait.

3) Person B jumps up and follows person A. They copy the trait chosen in 2) and then amplify it by 50%.

4) Person C then jumps in, following person A and B. They copy the trait evident in person B but amplify it by 80%.

5) Person A and B drop off and go to the audience space. Person A then tries to determine what the trait was. At this point, person C may be asked to amplify the trait further.

How I felt as person A:

I was shocked to discover that I walked with my arms. At first – when watching Daniel – I thought I was flicking up my hands with each walk but he was just trying to bring more attention to the arms. It is something I will be conscious of in the future.

How I felt as person C:

This was so much fun! Although, I did get a rather sore neck. Sonia was person A and the trait that Daniel and I chose was that she leads with her forehead and puts her chin into her left shoulder. At the end of it (stage 5) we were given instructions to make the trait hugely obvious, exaggerated and to put our entire body into it. I ended up being some sort of hunchback with a limp. I was a bit disappointed not to have seen the other ones due to the fact that my head was curled right over. I did realise that this is a great way to create really interesting characters.


Group awareness – up and down

This exercise involves 5 people standing in some sort of formation (a line, star, etc.) and two people must be crouched whilst the other three are standing. The difficulty, or the key, is not using sight. Each person looks straight ahead and relies on their other senses (+ their 6th sense) to determine whether to crouch or stand.

After the demonstration, 5 of us started it off. I found it very difficult to resist looking at the others but I got over that. My next difficulty was that I got frustrated, which of course helped nothing. I had to be very stern with myself to regain focus after this. I wanted to try it again so I could focus more and do a better job yet I always want this!

In this one focus, energy, physical and group awareness were clearly needed; if one wasn’t present the result wasn’t as good. I found that Sonia fidgeted a lot and was obviously not focussed and I think (from observations) that the others had to give even more focus to compensate.



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